“I wish that I could be like the cool kids, ’cause all the cool kids, they seem to fit in.” – Echosmith
These are lyrics in a song by a band that I’m probably too old to listen to. I’m not sure if emo still a thing, but I’m pretty sure I was too old for it when it was. So many feelings. So much wanting to be part of the crowd, yet totally unique. And listening to that song that was not meant for me brought me right back to when I should have been listening to it: high school. And it made me feel like such a loser.
I remembered how big a loser I felt like in high school, and I couldn’t believe that it still bothered me so much. Then I turned around and looked at the two beautiful kids sitting in the middle row of my age-appropriate minivan, and my thoughts went from the past to the future and back again. I want their experiences to be different.
I didn’t hate high school. I didn’t get my ass kicked or get pushed into lockers. I was friendly with a lot of people, but I didn’t have anyone I considered a real friend. I didn’t fit in or stand out. I wasn’t even cool enough to be one of the alt kids who made fun of the cool kids and listened to the bands I’d hadn’t heard of until now. I wasn’t cool enough to be on in The Secret. For a long time, I felt like a secondary character in my own story.
I don’t want that for my kids. I don’t want my kids to be wallpaper. I want them to be cool. Sort of.
On one hand, this seems obvious. Obviously, I should want my kids to be well-liked and popular, confident and self-assured. And I do. But it also makes me nervous, because I don’t quite trust the cool kids. They’re the ones who made me feel less-than.
I don’t remember individual incidences of humiliation having a profound effect on me, though cumulatively, they helped reinforce a distinct lack of confidence. At the time, none of it seemed like that big a deal. It was just life. But if I ever saw one of my kids feeling the same way I did, it would kill me, because I feel their pain more profoundly than I’ve ever felt my own.
There are times when my parents must have felt what I was going through, felt my pain. I am my father’s son, and my father, great guy that he is, is not cool. Like me, he is a homebody, preferring to curl up with a good book or the television and his wife, rather than make plans, get dressed up, go out, interact, stay up, and have to wake up early the next morning. (The idea exhausts me just thinking about it.) Especially the interaction part. We’re both introverts, though we can fake it when we have to. He’s a lawyer, and he goes big for his clients. I’m not sure, however, how often I ever saw him step outside his comfort zone. And being cool is about taking risks and knowing you can overcome them, feeling comfortable (or faking it) in any situation.
Because of my blog, I’ve appeared on TV a few times, and my pit stains were testament to how cool I am not. But if I want my kids to put themselves out there and feel relaxed in their own skin, I’ll happily sweat through my shirt and focus on keeping my jittery leg from jittering. For now at least, I’m cool to them. And they’re right by my side, sharing these experiences, and growing with me.
Still, it takes me a while to feel comfortable around the kids who were (and really still are) the cool kids. As far removed from the high school drama as I am, and as much as I try not to care what other people think, I still find myself trying to prove I’m worthy of acceptance. I shouldn’t have to. The thought shouldn’t even occur to me.
I don’t want my kids to have the same bullshit hangups that I do, despite my best efforts. I want them to know they are good enough. I want them to exude real confidence, not false bravado. I don’t really care if my kids are the cool kids, but I want them to be like the cool kids. To know that they fit in—or, better yet, to just not give a fuck.
Dave Lesser is a former attorney who much prefers his job as a stay-at-home dad to two hilarious and adorable children. His amazing wife fully supports his love of obstacle-course, road, and trail races. He ran his first full marathon a few months ago and still won’t shut up about it! He writes the blog Amateur Idiot, Professional Dad and is a contributor to Time Ideas, the Huffington Post, and the Good Men Project. You can follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.