Tuesday, January 29, 2019

My Wife's Dog

My wife has a little dog. He is a Mountain Feist named Murry (sic). Now, for those who don't know what a Mountain Feist is, it's a small terrier. If you took a Jack Russell and painted it with red oak stain, you would have a close approximation of my wife's dog.

I am tempted to say my wife treats that dog as she would a child. That is not accurate. She treats him better. Murry sleeps with her, he eats with her. Where she goes, he goes. However, Murry doesn't listen to a word she says. She asks. She wheedles. She cajoles. She begs. And the dog does what the dog wants to do.

Me, on the other hand... He hangs on my every word. If I say "come here", he comes. If I say, "Go to your room," he goes to his room. If I tell him to dance, he dances. He does everything I say, the first time. I never have to repeat myself. If he hesitates, I simply stare him down until he complies. I haven't trained him, and I never punish or reward him. He just does it. That damn dog would do my taxes if I told him to.

My wife once noted, "You don't praise him; you don't reward him; you don't pay him any attention; you don't pet him. You don't even call him a good dog! Why is it that he listens to you and not me?"

I replied, "He obeys me because I don't praise him; I don't reward him; I don't pay him any attention; I don't pet him. That little dog is desperate to get any of those things from me; and he is sure, in the depths of his little doggy brain, that if only he does what I say... If only he is good enough... Then someday, somehow, he will get what he craves from me."

To some extent, he is probably right. In a few years, when he is near the end of his little dog life, I will probably lay a hand on him and say, "Murry, you were a good dog." At that point, he will collapse into spasms of orgasmic pleasure and breathe his last. In the meantime, I'm not too concerned about Murry's emotional well-being: he gets all the love and attention he can stand from my wife.

Now, I don't believe that any of this is conjecture. I firmly believe that this is what's going on in his head. And it begs the question, how do I know? I'm not a dog whisperer. I don't read little dog minds. Hell, I don't even like dogs. So how can I be so sure about what is going on inside this dog's head?

It's because my stepfather was a U.S. Marine.

And I was that little dog.


I'm tempted to stop here, but I'm going to take a moment to "talk past the close" because some of you will probably read this and think, "Oh that's so sad! He wasn't really talking about the dog." Well, yeah; I am. I'm just not talking about only the dog.

Some people carry on about the attention and/or validation that they never received from their [parent/mentor/role model]. And in some cases, it's a truly sad story. In some cases, it's simply because they themselves have missed the boat. Take my stepfather for instance. When it came to his children, he wasn't really aloof... he just didn't know where to set the bar. So he didn't. For us, it wasn't a matter of dealing with constant disapproval. Rather, much like my wife's dog, it was a constant quest for approval. And it was always so close.

And that's just good parenting advice. One of the best lectures I have ever seen in my life was by Randy Pausch. It's entitled "The Last Lecture". It's also available in book form, and I strongly advise you to get it and read it. Randy faced this exact problem when he first started teaching about the creation of virtual worlds using computers. The class far exceeded his expectations, and he didn't know where to set the bar. He didn't tell them that they were amazing and wonderful and he had nothing to teach them. On the advice of a mentor, he went back to the class, looked them in the eyes, and said, "That was pretty good. But I know you can do better."

The quest for approval can drive you to improve yourself in ways that praise will never, ever help you to attain. In the grand scheme of things, we parents have one job, and that's to make sure that our kids can get along without us when we inevitably die. And yeah, as with anything, it can be done wrong. But that doesn't change the fact that it can be done right, too. Done right, parents establish a direction, and let their kids discover their own goals. This is in contrast with negligent parents, who give their children neither. I think that parents should be careful not to be so concerned with providing their kids with what they want that they fail to provide them what they need in order to excel.

On the other side... well, maybe you didn't get the constant praise you felt you deserved. But, you got to be a better person because you tried harder than you otherwise would have. When you look at it that way, it's not that hard to live with.

And yeah... Murry's a pretty good dog. But don't tell my wife I said that.

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