How to Be a Dad

How to Be a Dad

The Blogged Generation

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The Blogged Generation by Charlie Capen

My family sits like a clump of wires at the back of a desk. Disentangling my familial politics and systems has often proved equally difficult. So when it came time to forge ahead to make my dad’s final plans after he died, things were inevitably complicated. I don’t know where my father’s ashes were spread. I don’t even know if that’s what he would’ve wanted.

The days following his death were blurry and intense. Dad had given verbal post-mortem directives to his partner, a woman who supported him for several years, up to and including his cancers treatments, his attempted surgery and his body’s final hours. My mother, brother and I arrived a few hours prior to his passing, but I was the only one in the room when he died.

But why am I blogging about these personal moments in public, sharing the inner workings of my life with you?

We now live in a world so desperately connected and on display that it’s hard to avoid storytelling of any kind. Every day, almost 150,000 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube, 55 million status updates publish to Facebook, and 200 million tweets go out to hundreds of millions of recipients. We are the narrators and consumers of story. We broadcast and editorialize our very existence. We are the fuel to a social engine that seems, for the moment, unstoppable.

I have strong concerns as a writer, a content creator and, most importantly, as a father to a four-year old boy. He is now recognized at the zoo and other public venues because of my online journaling. And now another child will enter my family. What does the future look like for a generation of children that will be the most recorded and documented in human history?

There are so many styles of shared broadcasting these days. Our friends showcase a genre of “performance art” in the form of updates to social networks like Twitter and Facebook all the time and mainly about their kids. We can finger through the digital filing cabinets of platforms like YouTube, Instagram and Flickr for media evidence of those stories. The Internet seems to be a mile wide and an inch deep intellectually, but these stories remain immortal. Whether you’re a blogger or just a chronic over-sharer of baby photos, you are crafting a story that people will find even if they become digital archaeology.

Surely we should start investigating these implications for the future of our online children, and who better to ask than the parents of some of these kids in question.

Heather Armstrong of Dooce.com plans to show her daughters her unique collection of digital diaries when they are older. Specifically, Armstrong told me about her eldest daughter, now a nine-year-old and already very Internet-aware from situations where strangers knew their names, “I’m very, very careful now about what I write and what I do. (My daughter) is very conscious. I’ve been very clear in my head that my website is not something I want her to read right now. I’m writing it thinking that one day she will go through the experience of parenthood and have this to reflect on.”

But Armstrong seems cognizant of the greater picture. Knowing her daughter is heading toward a transition period where, as a young woman, she’ll have access to the Internet while not yet old enough go decipher all that her mother has published, blogging has changed for the matriarch and writer as her daughter has grown older, “I have slowly tapered off the amount I’ve written about her but I do think about what she is going think in 20 years when she sits down to read it. It makes me cautious but it doesn’t stop me. I don’t think what we’re doing is wrong. What I would give to hear stories about me from my mother’s point of view from the age of three through seven years old.”

In the case of Kristen Howerton, who writes RageAgainstTheMinivan.com, her four children are active participants in the social media experiment of her self-reflection, “So far my kids seem to revel in my blogging. They ask if I’m going to write a story about them when I take a picture. I think they see that we get some cool opportunities from (blogging) and want to join in on the storytelling. It is going to be weird when they get to the ‘Googling’ age. But they’re so much a part of my narrative, I don’t know how to separate them from mine.”

Though gifted storytellers and commentators on the subject of parenting, have we made plans for the day our children can consume the visual and literary show about their lives? Do we write with their future in mind? And how do we define public versus private content especially when our personal connections, as well as possible careers opportunities, derive more and more from these content-driven channels?

Much like the advent of spellcheck for those who couldn’t spell, has the internet taken over as our mind — a storage of memories for recollection? Serving as a cut-and-paste shortcut of a lifetime for employers and strangers of all kinds to see?

When he died, my father left me two cardboard boxes as inheritance. In these bankers boxes were the key to my past and my future, respectively. One box contained every journal my father had written. There were pages and pages of story ideas, tidbits from his day and musing about what assholes my brother and I could often be to each other. My favorite line was, “The boys are being insufferable today.” I don’t know if he intended for anyone else to see the inner monologues in his notebooks, but I can only assume their existence meant he wanted them found and read.

The second container, my future box, contained every rejection letter from every freelance writing gig he’d ever pitched. Letters from major publications like Outside magazine, National Geographic, and a host of print rags were dumped somewhat angrily into one pile, just for me. I hope it brings my dad some consolation, wherever he is, to know most of the publishers he failed to pitch were ultimately failures themselves as publications, swallowed up the zeitgeisty Internet black hole.

My father wanted me to learn from these corroborating stories and not necessarily from the words on the pages he gave me. He wanted me to know about things I could only understand after a southpoint in my life: his death. The narrative he created through these gifts of his was also an attempt at proving two points: 1. Journaling is at the heart of examining life. 2. Tally your losses to prove, one day, that you survived in spite of them all. It was his own status update before Facebook was even widely available to the public.

Well, that or editors are a bunch of idiots. Present company excluded, of course.

While I remain unsure of how my blogging or digital persona will affect my son’s trajectory, I definitely don’t want my writing to crush my son’s future life. I refuse to be a cancer to his creativity and power of choice. Hopefully, my journals will serve as a preamble to a better story than I could ever tell. The story of Finnegan Capen.

18 Comments

18 Responses to “The Blogged Generation”

  1. Great post. I suspect this new mode is both good and bad, but the learning curve may be steep for many people. It’s essential that parents do all they can to let their kids know the dangers lurking in this new 24/7 media age — the rest, sadly, will be up to them to navigate. I’ve got my fingers crossed …

    The notion that teens must be savvy about what they post on Facebook is likely the first of many problems parents will face in this area.

  2. alimartell says:

    I always say that I’m telling MY stories (which of course include stories of my children as well) because I wish so much that my mom had a blog when she was younger and was raising me. It would be such a great insight into who she is (and was!) as a person, a mom, a wife, a woman. And my kids will get to have that about me.

    Since I have been doing this for a long time, since 2004, my kids only know THIS really…and they are learning along the way. With me. I’m careful what I write about them, knowing that my two tweens have friends who may google them. I don’t tell the stories they wouldn’t want shared.

  3. Jack says:

    I also started in 2004 when my son was almost four and daughter was an infant.

    For a long while I had no problem sharing many of their stories but as they have gotten older I have become more circumspect about what I am willing to share because I no longer see myself as having the same level of ownership as I once did.

    The almost four year-old is a 7th grader now and the last thing I want is for him to be teased because of me.

  4. AMotherhoodBlog says:

    Great post! Thanks for sharing your insight. As a blogger/writer and mom of three, I’ve always blogged about my family with the sense of keeping it semi private. I wouldn’t post a story I wouldn’t want my own mom sharing had it been me. It’s true you need to think in terms that everything online is there forever and if you blog about family chances are someday it will be read. Do onto others I suppose is what I put Ito play here :)

  5. I have reflected upon this at length in a piece called Is it Right to Write About My Kids and I think the problem is digital identity. By writing about our kids for years before they can write about themselves we are creating their persona online and that, I think, is not ours to do. Just because the kids want us to write about them, doesn’t mean we should. They have no way of anticipating the future or the consequences of our actions. I am very, very torn about this and I thank you for your insightful reflection.

  6. Chris says:

    I was recently talking to my wife about this subject, so it’s nice to see I’m not alone in wondering about the effects of blogging on kids. I (much like many other people) started my blog to not only give my daughter stories about herself to read and (hopefully) laugh about, but to give her some insight into who I am as a first time parent and individual.

    I’m a child of divorce, I’ve had 3 different “dads,” and I never really knew who these men were. This is something that I struggle with to this day, mainly because I didn’t feel like I had a male role model who I could look up to. My goal is to be a role model for my daughter, and to give her some personal stories that she can read about and cherish when she gets older.

    I do worry, though, about when enough is enough. When I should start backing off and giving her some privacy. These days privacy is becoming less of a commodity, and who know what it will be when she’s older. I only hope that she’ll enjoy what I have written, rather than begrudge me for sharing moments from her life in a public manner. It’s a fine line to tread, and it’s definitely something that needs to be discussed more.

  7. Charlie,
    You wrote: “While I remain unsure of how my blogging or digital persona will affect my son’s trajectory, I definitely don’t want my writing to crush my son’s future life.”

    I’ve thought about this a lot.

    I believe my blog is for me to express myself. My blog is not for me to describe my kids and build a resume for them. (an bad resume may be created inadvertently if we aren’t careful)

    My blog is a public persona and I still keep digital notebooks private. Like your dad they contain stuff about my kids that will remain private until they are ready for them. Those thoughts don’t reach the public through my blog.

    If we want to share things with our kids so that they can know us better later or have read about memories we have of them they should feel assured and happy that the public wasn’t privy to those private thoughts.

    Just my opinion of course.

  8. Great post, Charlie.

    It’s going to be fascinating as this current blogged generation grows up and we start to learn the impacts–positive and negative–of this little experiment. My biggest concern is that I don’t want to create anything online that could feed into the horrific teasing and bullying that kids can experience online and on the playground. The stories that seem like innocent cute kid stories to me as a dad could potentially haunt my child through middle and high school.

    My son knows I blog and that parenting stories are, by their very nature, about children as well as the adults. I blog anonymously to protect him through his particularly vulnerable tween and teen years. Still, if there’s anything he’s uncomfortable with, I won’t post it.

    He, and only he, is completely in control of when I “come out” and drop the pseudonym. He has said that when the book comes out, he wants me to use my real name. I am very serious about my humor writing career, but I just can’t build it at his expense. So rather than filter everything I write to ensure it’s “harmless” I blog anonymously. Every kid is different; every parent is different. I would never suggest that my approach is the best for anyone else.

    One thing is really clear, though Charlie: nobody that reads your writing about your son could ever doubt how much you truly love and want the best for him. And in the end, that’s a pretty amazing gift you’re giving him.

  9. Miranda says:

    I’ve thought a lot about this since I started writing and what sharing about our lives comes down to for me is perspective. As a student of literature, various points of view are important for understanding the whole. I can only at any given time tell a story from my own perspective. When Joshua and Emma get older, I can encourage them to tell those same stories from their own perspectives. (Even if the stories cast me in an unflattering light.)

    No two people see the same event in the same way, so I try to be upfront with the fact that I’m only telling my life as I see it.

    And I’ll never write a story about my kids on my blog that I wouldn’t tell them to their faces/in front of their friends some day. If I wouldn’t tell the story in front of an audience of their peers, I’m probably not going to write it.

  10. Creed says:

    Well crafted. I’ve never put much thought into how something I might write today about a child who will not even remember this day in his life may be interpreted by him if he reads it in 10 or 12 or 25 years. Very thought provoking post.

  11. QuirkyDad says:

    I enjoy reading this blog and others who post in the comments. I am not trying to stir the pot, just sharing my POV.

    I don’t think it’s right to blog using your child’s name or photo. By documenting every problem or intimate story, we process our thoughts and may become better parents or partners. It’s nice to know other parents are going through similar challenges and we feel less alone. Nevertheless, by creating a searchable record, we may shame or punish our child (or ourselves) when applying for college or looking for a job.

    I believe we all can remember a time when a parent or close friend over-shared and you were devastated. As others have mentioned, some information needs to be kept within the family. Some writers do a better job of keeping stories private.

    We don’t know how the two year old will feel at 15 or 25. I’d be disappointed if my child doesn’t get their dream job because of my writings. We can say “If they won’t hire you because of X then you don’t want to work there!.” However, times and temperaments change and what was PC now may not be in the future. I don’t believe that’s our choice to make.

    What information are we sharing that your child’s “enemies” would use to humiliate or harm? We are here to protect our children not to give the keys to the castle to outside forces. Children are vulnerable and we need to protect and allow them to thrive.

  12. Homemakerman says:

    Either anonymity is good, or so many kids will have been blogged about, that it’ll be just another widely shared eerie nice, like divorced parents or being able to quote the Original Karate Kid.

  13. Rita Arens says:

    We should probably ask Erma Bomback’s kids, eh?

  14. Dave says:

    Charlie,

    I think it’s great that you are journaling your thoughts about your children, just as your father did. I do the same thing. But you didn’t really answer the question — why blog about your kids IN PUBLIC? Where anyone in the world will be able to capture all your pictures and text FOREVER? In a way that is clearly an invasion of your children’s PRIVACY in a way that they are too young to consent? I’m not sure you would have appreciated if your father had done the same. Or another way of saying it is — are you prepared to publically disclose ALL of your father’s journal entries, without editing, today?

    From what I can tell, the answer is basically money. I know that sounds cynical but lots of parents try to blog for a living. In my opinion it’s better to journal in private and let your children, when they are older, decide how public or private to make them. Just my opinion!

    • charlie says:

      Dave, thank you for your opinion. I appreciate you coming to the site, reading the article and throwing your hat in the ring. But I have to say… if you think this site is about money, you’re dead wrong. There are 1,000,000,000,000 other BETTER ways I could be making money. Pouring 40-60 hours a week into creating content, managing the community aspects and otherwise interfacing with people about the website are not good “return on investment” activities. So, pardon me if I laugh at your reasoning.

      This website was not begun with money in mind and while the pittance of money we make helps keep us working on it, the benefits of blogging have been both emotional and work-related. The dividends here are from public discussion and some fun benefits to watching people identify with the words you write.

      Also, not every post is a visceral confession. You’ll notice 4 out of 5 posts are ubiquitous parenting content.

      From what you can tell? How much of the website have you read. My question to you is: Why do people post status updates about their kids? Parents hijack Facebook newsfeeds with photos and stories of their children. Is that to make money too?

  15. Dave says:

    Hi Charlie,

    Thanks for your comments which I take to heart. Obviously you can’t speak for everyone but Dooce has explicitly stated that she blogs for money (there’s a NY Times article about her). Rageagainstheminivan and others have sponsors directly on their site which is strictly for monetary purposes.

    That being said, I take to heart your comment that you aren’t in it for the $$$. I don’t post status updates about my kids on Facebook. But my opinion is people post about their kids on Facebook for the attention and for the “likes.” I’m not sure most parents are even thinking through the privacy implications of their facebook posts. I appreicate that you are at least wrestling with them.

    Perhaps a less self interested reason to blog about kids is, as you well stated, “from public discussion and some fun benefits to watching people identify with the words you write.” Could you please elaborate on that? If money is not the answer, why DO you blog publicly? Despite the possibly severe and permanent consequences and explicit violations of privacy which you seem to acknowledge and recognize?

  16. This is a really great post Charlie. I don’t know how I’ve never read it until now, but tons of food for thought here. Thanks.

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