Ironically, right around the time of Heath Ledger’s death, the following was on the marquee at a local theater:

Heath Ledger in
I’m not there

As I looked at this every day on my way to and from work, the sadness of that title was profound. And though, not trying to draw too many conclusions or metaphors from the title, I could not help but think how in many ways, that when we are at home with our spouses and our children, often we are there in body, but not really there in mind.

I hear parents ask the same question: “when my son is home, it seems like he or she is not really there. Or “all my son wants to do is sit in his room and play video games. He seems withdrawn and distant. What those parents seem to be saying is that they are with us in body, but are not really there in mind. While it is easy to ask that question aloud concerning our children, I wonder how true it is for us as not only spouses, but also as parents.

How do we anchor our children to reality and to us as parents, when so often we are disengaged ourselves?

We live in a self-created fiction yet cannot ignore reality even in our fiction. That is a pretty deep way to start to answer the question, but it is true…we create our own sense of reality. Our children merely emulate our behavior. This virtual world that we see in the internet, 500 different cable channels, thousands of movies, an author on every corner, text messaging, living life on phones did not create itself. We have created a world, a fiction that surrounds the universe of me. As parents, we have passed that on to our children and given them new tools and a faster way of doing it.

But how real is that fiction? And what is the problem with doing it anyway? Everyone likes to escape reality from time to time don’t they? I know I do.

For me, I use entertainment as a way to escape reality. Often it is a book, a movie, or even a television show. Lately, the internet has been a way for me to explore my interests….a virtual library at my fingertips. Is there really anything wrong with me doing this?
This is when I begin to live in my own fiction. The fiction that tells me I am the only one who matters: the only one I need to worry about pleasing. In the words of Terrell Owens; “I love me some me, and that is the crux of the problem. We are generally so enamored with ourselves that we really are not there. “There, is the reality of life. “There, is the place most often we are trying to escape. We often have trouble anchoring ourselves as parents and our children to the reality of life. Life exists on the other side of fiction.

What does that mean? Heath Ledger, truly, is no longer here, and that is the reality of life. He was trying to escape from his own reality with no knowledge of the consequences that would come. Drugs for so many people are an escape, yet they are perilously used to seemingly add color to a life that seems dull…black and white.

Life is fleeting and it goes all too quickly. Yet given the speed of life, how do we establish a sense of permanence in our children? How do we anchor them to the reality of life and the permanence of hope?

Certainly it seems that anchoring our children and ourselves to reality is a challenging task. Life, in many ways, seems odder than fiction. A newspaper on any given day can make that point for us, but a recent article suffices. According to the Australian newspaper, The Telegraph, “suicidal pets are getting anti-depressants, particularly tropical birds such as parrots which seem to have been the most affected by depression.

The news and the advances of technology on any given day make it seem as if reality is a moving target and challenging at best. From birds taking Prozac to robots that are being developed so we can have virtually interactive sex, it would appear that reality changes with each generation.

However, in a shifting culture, there are principles that we as parents need to embrace so to anchor our children and ourselves to reality.

  • Reality is not relative nor, is truth. If reality and truth were relative, then no one would ever be wrong.
  • Truth does exist. O.J. Simpson either did or did not kill his wife. The fact that you or I do not know the answer does not mean that an answer does not exist.
  • In the words of Dr. Samuel Johnson: “The fact that there is such a thing as twilight does not mean that we cannot distinguish between night and day.
  • We cannot merely live virtually, apart from others. E-mail, voice mail, and the phone, are all ways that we now seek to live our lives without interacting with others. The virtual touch has become easier than the personal touch. We however, are built to be in relationship. Virtual interaction, will never be as good nor as challenging, as the real thing.
  • We all need down time. We all need to relax. Weariness is not an excuse to entertain ourselves into isolation, into our “own reality.

Technology and culture will change. The movement of society is not an excuse to let ourselves and our children be absent in our own homes. Weariness is not an excuse to let our children retire to their rooms, live virtually on the phone or internet, watch their TV, apart from us. We allow them to do those things because it is easier. It allows us to live our own lives, while ignoring theirs. But it is not reality. We as parents need to guard ourselves from escaping reality. In doing this, we can prevent our children from escaping into their own fiction.

The other side of fiction is reality. It is a world we all live in, and we are not alone in it.

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