I can be a pretty uptight guy. That may surprise some of you who have known me for a long time since I didn’t use to be that way. Heck, in college, I used to leave my truck keys hanging by the front door of the fraternity house in case anyone ever needed to borrow it (and did they ever). But some combination of age, responsibility, family, and Lord knows what else has really wound me up.
This isn’t to say that I necessarily dislike this version of me. I’m more responsible, I make better decisions generally, and it’s very seldom that I find myself waking up on a strange couch on a strange front porch with no recollection of how I got there. On the downside, however, is occasionally raging out at my kids. And I don’t like doing that. I think I’ve basically just convinced myself that if I can’t train them to be on time, listen the first time, and be able to sit quietly for hours at a time I will have somehow have failed as a father. With my kids, that can be an especially tall order.
When I first saw the book Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids by Bryan Caplan, I immediately thought “There’s a book I definitely don’t need.” After reading a little into it, though, I immediately pre-ordered the Kindle version (which is totally out of character for me mostly because I’m cheap and would rather wait for the paperback — at the library) hoping that it would be able to convince me that I could calm down a little, and I think it did a pretty good job. The basic premise that I latched onto was that nurture just doesn’t play that big a role in how children turn out. That mortifies some people (I’m assuming those with bad genes) because it means you are wasting a lot of time. I found it to be a huge relief, because I could stop freaking out so much all the time and let my kids be kids, and not spend all of their time trying to please me in my quest to make them be perfectly responsible adults.
A second key to the book is that the one thing that will stick with your children is being a total monster to them. So, yelling at them won’t make them better adults, just adults who will resent you more. Fortunately, the stress of constantly yelling will probably kill you before they give you grandkids, so at least from that angle it’s lose-lose-lose.
As far as recommending the book, I’ll have to be honest and say it isn’t the best read. The statistics in it are dumbed-down and high-level all at the same time, and as they are presented in the book I’m not sure they’d be much help if you aren’t at least a little versed in the discipline (of course, you can always just accept that the author is giving you a fair assessment – to my opinion he usually is). The writing style is a little wordy. I think it could have been half the length and just as convincing, but there’s no money in 25 page books so I’ll forgive him. The logic is pretty sound, the assumptions are largely safe, and the quotes he throws in are absolutely fantastic (they may in fact be the best part of the book).
I think the biggest letdown is that I don’t know that after reading his Freakonomics post and the bit in USA Today that I’d still have needed to read the book — he gives away the best parts and saves the pure statistics and deeper economics for the book. So, if you are willing to take his word for it, you could save yourself ten bucks, but if you are on the edge and need the extra persuasion, it is money well spent. Since I’ve heard about the book, my relationship with every one of my children has improved significantly, my marriage is running smoother, and I haven’t felt this relaxed since right before I woke up on that couch. Not to say I never get worked up, but I get way less worked up way less often, and I do generally at least consider whether I should do that or not.
In sum, I’ll give the book, for its pure entertainment value, a Roast Beef, but I’ll give the change it made in my family a Cuban with Smoked Provolone.