Even during an interlude of contentious elections, gay marriage and intrigue in China--not to mention the first Knicks playoff win since the earth cooled -- this was probably the most provocative headline of the week: "Does Helicopter Parenting Drive Dads to Cheat?"
It was in The New York Times and about Park Slope, Brooklyn, commonly acknowledged as the epicenter of helicopter parenting -- and apparently, as it were, stray dog dads. But anyone from Connecticut and Westchester knows that Park Slope doesn't have an exclusive on parents who try to iron every last worry and challenge from their kids’ lives, even as they claw for every last advantage.
It is, in the end, the Westchester and Connecticut way, too.
But does all this over-involved nonsense -- from Park Slope to Poughkeepsie -- really drive dads into the arms of a kind stranger? Sometimes the more provocative the question, the more elusive the answer. So the best place to turn, I thought at first, was to literature. But there -- take, say, John Cheever -- dads are having affairs left and right even though their sole responsibility at home seems to be mixing the dirty martinis.
I looked to science, too, where, also last week we learned of a study that held that the promiscuousness of the male zebra finch was determined not by circumstance, but instead simply carried along the genetic code. By logical extension, if Westchester and Connecticut men, like the zebra finch, are hewing to predetermined biological destiny, cheating probably doesn’t come out as a reaction to completing too many math assignments to make certain little Johnnie Genius aces the fourth grade. We just can’t help it.
Where literature and science failed, I went to the beasts themselves.
I spoke to two dads who have had affairs, though neither, for obvious reasons (i.e., a frying pan to the head) would allow me to use their names. How did I find them? Let’s just say, you can close your eyes, throw a rock and you’re bound to hit one. Or two.
But neither took the easy opportunity (I all but handed it to them on a platter) to blame helicopter parenting for their errant ways. One apparently comes from a long line of philanderers (see: those zebra finches) while the other said he was drinking too much at the time (paging John Cheever).
In fact, having been vexed by fourth grade math assignments on numerous occasions, I know that helicopter parenting can be ego-sapping. And a sapped ego hardly serves a good baseline from which to go out on the prowl: “Hey, good looking, I can’t even do fourth grade math. Wanna’ dance?” From the start, the premise that over involved parenting led to cheating seemed like a reach. But I could be wrong. After all, I never thought the Knicks would win even one game against the Heat and as someone who still can’t mix a dirty martini; I should probably have my suburban citizenship revoked.
But what do you think?
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