Cultivating your children

A while ago I went to the movie theater to see Dune. I quite liked the film but wasn’t blown away by it. In school I played the game on my Sega Mega Drive. However after the cinema experience I had the itch to read the novel and learn more about the characters. After all, there are a lot of important things that are in the book but are always missing from the screen adaptation. And boy was I blown away… I am still just half way through the first book, so this is not a book review but rather some thoughts I got about raising your children. With that in mind, let’s move on.

Paul Atreides is one of the main characters, a 15-year old heir of House Atreides, an aristocratic family that moved to the planet Arrakis. Paul’s father, Duke Leto Atreides, an aristocrat and the head of the family. Paul’s mother, lady Jessica, came from the Bene Gesserit school, “an exclusive sisterhood whose members train their bodies and minds through years of physical and mental conditioning to obtain superhuman powers and abilities that can seem magical to outsiders”. With such parents Paul’s life path was already predetrmined before his birth.

Think about the most famous royal family in the world: The British Monarchy. Even though Queen Elizabeth’s son, Charles, is the official heir to the throne, it is expected that her grandson, Prince William will become the King of Great Britian after her death. From the early days when William and his brother Harry were born, their fate and future was set: their education, their moral principles, their behavior, their future life partners, all of that must follow a specific set of rules that cannot be broken.

To a degree this is very similar to noble and aristocratic families. They either go to specific schools and universities, or/and have private teachers that served their families for generations. In both cases children are usually “cultivated” for a specific job: take over their parents' duties and continue the family business. The most interesting story I’ve read was in the book “Sons of Wichita” about the Koch brothers. Their father, the founder of the company and the patriarch of the family, raised them very strictly. Most of the time they never played games with other children, they didn’t have much personal time to be, well, just children. Instead from the young age they worked in family businesses. The family ranch was right next to the tennis club where friends of the brothers were hanging out in summer days, but not the Kochs. They were busy working and could hear their comrades laughing and playing nearby. A similar childhood is described in his autobigraphy titled “Open” by Andre Agassi.

As a result of such upbringing, most of these children never experience the childhood: going out with the rising Sun only to come back home during the night. Such summer days are filled with games and exploration of your surroindings, the environment. If you’ve read “Calvin and Hobbes” comics, then Calvin is exactly what constitutes childhood, something royals completely miss in their early lives.

The problem with being raised that way is that there is almost no way to escape. There are, of course, exceptions like Prince Harry who left his royal duties and escaped the country to be close to his wife. Similar cases with Japanese royal family members. During one of the moments when Paul Atreides had to perform his duties, he thinks:

I never wanted to be a god. I wanted only to disappear like a jewel of trace dew caught by the morning. I wanted to escape the angels and the damned – alone… as though by an oversight

This hit me really hard because Paul doesn’t have any choice. He loves his father so much that he simply cannot fail him and not take the reign. He cannot be a crazy child running around. He cannot have friends from “normal” people. He doesn’t really have a choice of who he can marry.

Ever since I had my own children I never stopped thinking about the choices I make in terms of their education. How much I should balance between being strict and pushing them to finish something at all costs (e.g. acrobatics or musical school that many children hate but might appreciate in the adulthood), or being led by their desires and mood (I want to go there today, I don’t want to go there anymore, no I want to go there again). On one end of the spectrum I might raise someone who would hate their life until my death, and on another there will be a person who would hate me for not insisting they complete something from start to finish.

One thing I am certainly happy about is at least we have some form of freedom to forge our own path. We are not bound to our parents' way of life, and so our children. Unless they want to.