Education for Irrelevance - By Shane Borrowman

October 15, 2014

Posted By: Shaunescy

I was having a good time, so it took a while for the reality of the situation to sink in. Like most  parents, I’m not alone in the house much, particularly when there isn’t some major chore ongoing, like mowing the lawn, which is, even on a cool day, a three-beer job with my ancient, blue-smoke farting mower from Sears.

But there I was, reclined in my chair, entirely alone, in the middle of a sunny summer Sunday. Elizabeth was on her way to Salt Lake City to see a specialist about her wrist. John was staying overnight with a friend. Sam was off at the skate park with her friend Tony who is, she assures me at every opportunity, not her boyfriend. I have my suspicions. Even the pets were in other parts of the house—

Ike, our poodle, passed out in the sunbeam that beats its way across the living room floor every afternoon; Frank, our enormous long-hair cat, a feral we adopted in Nevada several years ago, sleeping either in my office or under a bed; Nora, a feral who adopted us a couple years back, off killing something smaller and weaker than her—part of which she likely would bring to me as a gift. Or possibly as a sort of cat-paying-rent business transaction. I tried to find something engaging on television and couldn’t, defaulting to a Cops and Jail marathon that could be ignored...or at least viewed only passively, between naps.

I cracked a beer but couldn’t be bothered to finish it.

I didn’t feel like reading—for work or for pleasure.

I found myself thinking about the ancient shark tooth I keep on my desk. It’s five inches long from chipped tip to root, three inches wide across the base. Both sides are still surprisingly sharp, and the serrations can cut paper, even after the tooth sat in ocean-floor silt for a couple million years. The Megalodon that hunted with that tooth in its head was centuries dead when my Montana home was still covered by an inland sea. He’d have been the apex predator of his day, though, whether we’re talking millions of years ago or only ten thousand years ago, since this tooth suggests a shark longer than a full-size school bus.

Thinking about unwanted beer and skate parks and Tony-who-isn’t-a-boyfriend and sharks as big as school buses, I was struck by the problem that I was experiencing. I felt restless, aimless, and bored. I was alone and didn’t know what to do with myself.

There was nothing I needed to be doing, and no one needed my help with anything.

I felt irrelevant. My kids are nine years old. They have friends and can be trusted—more or less—to leave and then come back when they’re supposed to; they have watches and know how to use them. They don’t have cell phones, yet, but have a loose network of friends throughout the neighborhood, and they know who to turn to in the event of an accident, even if they can’t immediately get a hold of me or their mother. They know how to reach me, both at home or by the cell phone I hate to carry and sometimes think I lose (albeit unconsciously) deliberately.

They don’t need me around full time. They aren’t supposed to need me around full time. And that’s the point. I educated them enough to begin to make myself irrelevant.

It’s a good thing, being largely irrelevant in these ways.

Still, it kinda ruined my Sunday.


With Love, Dad

note:  For my title, I owe a direct debt to folks in my field, including Kurt Spellmeyer and Thomas P. Miller.  They brought the concern up in a scholarly context, rather than a parental one, but the worry is the same.  Except when it isn't.

Shane Borrowman is a native of Anaconda, father of twins, and professor of English at The University of Montana Western.  He has published on a wide range of topics, including the development of boxing in Renaissance England, medieval Arabic philosophy, and American zombie films.  He is editor or co-editor of four writing textbooks and six collections of original scholarship.

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