It's no wonder jealousy festers among parents, who shoulder the logistical and financial burdens. As you strive to be more fun, giving, and understanding than your own authoritarian/unreliable/absent parents were, you're repaid with offspring who remind you daily they're more assured and more worldly than you've ever been.
This vein of envy isn't entirely new—it runs through the Brothers Grimm fairy tales and the ancient Cree legend of a dad who deserted his son on a rocky island for fear the boy's stepmother loved him a little too much. Or consider Robert Duvall's disciplinarian marine father in The Great Santini, who comes unglued after losing a game of hoops to his son. The modern dad may not be quite so bullheaded, but his jealousy is often just as acute—and perhaps more problematically, it's now enabled by what might be called the Juvenile Enrichment Complex: The routine childhood begins with music groups and deluxe indoor playgrounds and quickly advances into hip-hop classes and spy camp. Whereas our dads asked us why we'd ever need a Fender, we watch from the wings as Junior shreds through the Green Day catalog. If our kid is bored with soccer, we begin an exhaustive search for "his" sport, be it basketball or Irish step dancing. We want him active and engaged. So what if he can't focus? For fuck's sake, he even gets Adderall.
The part that stings the most: They're cooler! And it's pathetic that you even care. After all, your parents settled into middle-aged regularity and lameness without much fuss.
It's no wonder psychologists like Carl Pickhardt, author of many parenting books, including The Connected Father, encounter so many men who complain about their spawn's privileged circumstances. "Parents are entirely complicit," he says. "They give to their kids what they never got and then get angry at their kids for not being appreciative. But of course the kids don't know. All they know is this abundance and affluence. How could they ever be appreciative?"
One need look no further than Joseph Jackson to see how badly this situation can turn out. No doubt Papa Joe has felt unadulterated pride at his kids' success, but his strained grins and attempts to out-glam, out-party, and generally outdo his kids make for an unsavory cautionary tale.
Too often, a desire to provide the best for your kids morphs into an attempt to furnish them with all the stuff you want yourself. Bruce Miller, a television writer and father of three from Los Angeles, had his reckoning while touring private middle schools with his son. "These places were amazing—way better than any college I'd ever seen," he says. One school offered courses in Chinese and a swim team coached by an Olympic gold medalist. "All I remember about middle school is not being able to open my locker and fear of an ill-timed erection. And here my kid was walking into this idealized version of middle school. It wasn't fair. I wanted a do-over."