Neil Tambe

I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

Why do we want what we want for our kids?

As I’ve become a father I’ve started to give my intentions more scrutiny. In particular, I’ve been trying to be honest about my intentions for our kids, which they’re too young to form on their own - for now.  

Why do we want the things we want for our kids? And by we I mean “we.” Why do we want good schools, which lead to a good college, which lead to a good job? Why do we want dance lessons, high test scores, and a spot on the varsity team? 

For their futures, obviously. But still, why?

As I’ve reflected, I’ve felt myself being pulled by two motivations.

On the one hand, I want my kids to be good people, with strong character and with behavior grounded in thoughtful morals.

On the other hand, I feel pulled by wanting my kids to have respect, status, and power.

(For the record, I also want my kids to be able to thrive without me, but that’s a given. And, I think that can happen through goodness or through power.)

And both power and goodness are reasonable motivations for wanting our kids to have “the best” in life. But the conclusion I’ve come to for myself is that goodness matters more and it matters first. And my overriding principle as a father is to do whatever I can to shape my kids into good people.  

I am skeptical of the motivation of wanting kids to have the best opportunities so they can have respect, status, and power. Why? Because it starts a cycle that ends devastatingly. Because a desire for respect, status, and power begets more power - and an even stronger desire for more after that. And at some point, that power will exceed my (or my kids) capacity to wield it responsibly. And when that happens I (or my kids) will descend into madness.  

Because power corrupts, goodness has to come first for me - as a father and for myself. 

And when I think of it that way, why would I ever want to put my kid on a path to having an addiction to respect, status, and power when I know the endgame is ugly? I honestly think that it’s because having high-status kids might satisfiy my own desire for respect, status, and power. Which is an even more selfish motivation.

The point is this, I think very carefully about why I want what I want for our kids. The problem is, it’s a hard question to be honest about.