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Helicopter Gunship Parents,
Evil, and All That

October 25, 2015
by William P. Meyers

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I am a middle child (older, adopted brother and younger sister) and, even in my old age (I was born in 1955, in the depths of the Dark Ages) have that characteristic obsession about fairness that comes from that position.

I am also hypercompetitive, which is not obvious to most people because I choose to compete in arenas that are strange to most people. This, psychologists and Al Gore would say, is a result of have an unaffectionate mother and having to compete with my brother and sister for for the rare scraps of affection she doled out.

Many other factors influenced my childhood, though I like to think that some time between the ages of 13 and 23 I took charge of my own life, and so blame no one for my failures or their faults. Here I'd like to describe, from my own experience, a type of parenting that has become rare, and was not all that common even in the 1960s, when I was child.

Much has been said about the modern helicopter parenting style. Everyone knows helicopter parents, and if old enough, has seen a variety of helicoptered children grow into young adults. They don't all turn out the same, but some of the worst results of this parental style become urban legends. Like kids who text their mothers during job interviews.

I had helicopter gunship parents. They did not have to hover all that much because their guns and missiles had a long reach. My earliest memories are of being beaten by my mother. Something, in fact a number of things, were wrong with her. She lost her temper very easily. Hitting a child was nothing to her.

There were a whole bunch of rules that needed to be followed in the Meyers' household, but following those rules was not enough. Thinking for oneself was punished. Doing anything without permission was punished. Guessing wrong what my parents would want you to do in a situation was punished. And sometimes, as far as I could tell, my mother just lost her temper.

My father had a different personality than my mother, and generally could be depended upon to be considerably more affectionate and reasonable. On the other hand, when he lost it he could (and did) inflict considerably more damage.

Fortune and misfortune often arrive in the same package. My father had been in the intelligence service of the U.S. Marine Corps, and had interrogated Japanese prisoners during World War II and Korean prisoners during the Korean war. He knew how to give a severely painful beating without leaving a mark. My mother had also been a Marine, briefly, during World War II. Family legend had it that she was the only female Marine to kill a Japanese soldier, but I have never seen any documentation of that. It may stem from a similar legend that she beat up a Japanese-American citizen when she was stationed in Hawaii.

In any case I lived a a functional dictatorship. My parents did not have to physically follow me to school, or help me do my homework. My mother had three meals on the table at specified times each day, even after she took a full time job. Neither of my parents drank. We went to Catholic mass every Sunday and on holy days of obligation. I spent a lot of my time reading, partly because I liked it (if not as much as playing baseball and other games with my friends) and partly because even my mom could seldom find a reason to scream at or hit a child reading a book.

As with helicopter parents, helicopter gunship parenting produces mixed results. Only my brother stayed on the straight and narrow path of my parents. He rebelled early in the ways teenagers did in the late sixties and early seventies: alcohol and marijuana and a failure to pay attention to his studies. Then, with a degree from a third-rate college, and no real ambition, he got talked into enlisting in the Marine Corp. Eventually he made Colonel.

If it was bad for me and my brother, the Meyers family was particularly toxic for my younger sister, who had a lot of special rules for females imposed on her. She may have been the brightest of the three of us, she almost got a PhD., but she ultimately switched religions from Roman Catholic to Judaism. Then she descended into the pit of an ultra-orthodox cult. So her own children had to endure even crazier, pickier rules than we had endured.

I turned out great, but it was not easy. At 18, on my own, emotions were deeply buried, because showing emotion was dangerous when a helicopter gunship is around. I was cautious and fearful, as is appropriate after 18 years of living under a helicopter gunship. While I knew I had been fed a lot of bullshit, I was not entirely sure what the reality was beyond the bullshit.

I knew I needed to heal myself, and I tried the standard nostrums of that era, including philosophy classes, girlfriends, transcendental meditation, Zen Buddhism, reinventing myself (two or three times), marijuana, LSD, and good old trial and error.

I have always been interested in the difference between good and evil. My helicopter parents had clear ideas of good and evil. America, Catholicism, and the U.S. Marines were good. Atheists, Jews, and Communists were bad; Protestants were suspect. African-Americans were bad, as far as my mother was concerned. My father was more cosmopolitan. When, imitating the TV show Combat, I said I wanted to kill Krauts, my father explained that our family name, Meyers, was German. Not only were we German Americans, but not all Germans during World War II were Nazis. When I talked about killing Japs (again, having learned from war movies) my father explained that when he was stationed in Japan he learned that ordinary Japanese people were quite nice, and had only fought in World War II because their leaders misled them. I never heard my father stand up for civil rights for African Americans, but he did not run them down either.

And so I sorted through good and evil, and found that they often cannot be distilled into separate substances. Choices have consequences, that is all. Helicopter parenting a child has consequences, but so does neglecting a child. There is no one good way to parent, and there is no exceptional style of parenting that produces universally good results. And people don't agree on what good results are. Certainly I don't think that those who end up with the highest pay are the best products of our society.

However we were parented, at some point we have to take responsibility for ourselves. We need to evaluate ourselves and change what needs changing.

Having gunship helicopter parents did come in useful to me at times. I can be as lazy and whiney as anyone, at times, but I can also be stoic. I can take a beating and get back up and function. While a cautious approach to situations has cost me at times, it has also saved me from a lot of trouble at times.

I learned that when authorities of any kind substitute fists for intelligence, it is best to fight back with intelligence as the primary weapon. If fists become necessary, you want to make sure you are the fist, not the authorities.

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