The Alec Rawls Trap
The second pledge week post is a request from Rob Loftis of HelpyChalk (a blog about raising children and doing philosophy).
Rob asks: "What's it like growing up the child of an academic philosopher? As an academic philosopher with children, I am especially hoping for any anecdotes that say that the children of academics all grow up to be happy and well adjusted, despite what you might think."
Actually, I'm the niece of an academic philosopher and the daughter of a physiological psychologist. I come from an eccentric academic background. My paternal grandfather was, at various times, a right wing populist crusading against money and banks in the dirty thirties, an MP, a delegate to the UN, a traveling magician, and a chiropractor. My maternal grandfather graduated from medical school before he was 21. He went on to become a professor of ear nose and throat surgery, treat Joe DiMaggio, and scientifically document the effects of rock music on hearing.
My parents met in Berkeley in the 1960s while my dad was doing his PhD. Being raised by academic hippies is like being raised by wolves--with intensive socialization you can rejoin human society, but you can never integrate seamlessly.
In my family, even pets and infants are addressed in complete sentences. There are no taboo subjects, except when the conservative relatives visit from the interior. Then we can't talk about religion.
I remember the day in kindergarden when one little boy announced that he had a baby brother. How did that happen, someone asked. The kid said something about God. Other kids were floating theories about angel-storks. I felt I had to set the record straight.
Many children cried. My mom was called in for a parent-teacher conference. The teacher was very upset.
"Did she tell the truth?" Mom asked.
"Oh, yes," the teacher said, "In great detail."
"I don't think we have a problem, then," Mom said.
My uncle, the philosopher, used to be a heavy smoker. One day when I was about six, I said, no doubt irritatingly,
"If I were you, I wouldn't smoke."
He answered, "If you were me, you'd smoke. I smoke."
I thought about that for a long time.
Another early philosophical memory is from a long car trip. My mom sent my dad to the library to get some books on tape to amuse me (10), and my brother (7). He came back with "The Death of Socrates" and "On The Road." By the time we reached southern Washington my brother and I were sobbing inconsolably and mom looked about ready to kill dad. The mood brightened after we popped in "On the Road" and mocked the dated sex scenes as a family.
Day-to-day life in my parents' house was very interesting. We had a lot of company. The best houseguests were the magicians. My father and my uncle are involved in the skeptics movement. Once we hosted an Indian magician called Premanand who collaborating with my uncle on an expose of the fraudulent Indian mystic, Sai Baba. One of Premanand's tricks is fire-eating. Basically, you light a brick of camphor and pop it into your mouth where it immediately smothers. I volunteered to eat some fire. I became such an enthusiastic fire eater that I got to eat flaming camphor on local TV when Premanand made an appearance on CBC television.
I hope all this is reassuring to Rob. I have a wonderful family. I still look forward to coming home for the holidays. Amanda and I were chatting about families while we were in Amsterdam and she said, "I think you like your family so much because you know them as well as you know your friends." I think that's exactly it.
I'll let readers decide whether I escaped the Alec Rawls trap.
Keep those post requests coming, and thanks for supporting Pledge Week at Majikthise.