I Learned It From Watching You, Dad!

Can you pass irrational fear onto your children genetically? Like hair color? My kids aren’t scared of monsters or witches or dogs or getting hit by a car or catching West Nile. But volcanoes? Terrified. They stay up at night worrying about the hot lava, even after my wife and I explained to them that we live about 2,000 miles from the nearest volcano. We showed them that we’d have to get on a plane and fly far, far away. Then we’d have to get in a Jeep and drive a long way. Then we’d have to hike for miles before ever having to worry about being burned by hot lava. (Sidenote: Now, every time they see an airplane, they assume the passengers are going to see a volcano). 

Still, my son is obsesses over volcanoes and is concerned with his favorite things melting. “Daddy, does Buzz Light Year melt?” I have no idea what the melting temperature of Taiwanese plastic is, so I just tell him no. God help us if he ever sees that scene in Indiana Jones where the bad guy’s face melts off. He won’t sleep for weeks.

He’s also really concerned with turning 4. “I don’t want to be 4,” he says, crying a little. Even though his birthday is months away, he agonizes over getting older. This morning, while on the way to one of the brief periods of peace in my life commonly referred to as “child care,” he was staring out the window and said, with a hint of melancholy, “I just want to be 2 again.” Sigh.

What the fuck?

I tried to tell him that being 2 wasn’t all that great. He couldn’t ride a bike. Couldn’t poop in the potty. Couldn’t get Daddy a beer from the fridge…but he wouldn’t have any of it. He’s not even in kindergarten yet, and he thinks his best years are behind him.

My wife told me his irrational fears weren’t genetic, they were learned. Which is a round about way of saying I’m passing on my own neurosis to my children just by being in constant contact with them. It’s like a communicable disease.

And she’s right. I’m scared of just about everything. Some examples: Falling over the second story railing at the mall. Being pushed in front of traffic by a stranger while waiting at a crowded crosswalk. Deportation (I was born in the U.S., but you never know). Public bathrooms.

Public bathrooms are probably at the top of my fear list. One of the things I admire most about my very naïve children is their ability to poop anywhere. Gas station bathroom with an inch of mystery liquid on the floor? “Daddy, I have to poop.”

Personally, I can only poop in two places: My own bathroom, when everyone else in the house is asleep, and Barnes and Noble, but only within 20 minutes of the store opening. Any later and I start imagining all of the people that have beat me to the throne.

I’m also scared of getting hit by a foul ball at baseball games. Strokes (do you smell burnt toast?). Werewolves. Cartoon-induced seizures. Getting charged by a rhino in Africa. Hula hoops. Mascots for professional sports teams. Having to get a real job.

I could go on. It might be easier to list the things I’m not scared of. It’s a short list. Sex. Puppies. Although puppies have unusually sharp teeth. Why is that?

And here’s a short list of things I’m not scared of that I probably should be scared of: Strippers. The bowl of communal nuts at a bar. Drinking while boating. Liquor distilled in a bathtub. Backyard fireworks shows.

But I digress.

So, in the great Nature/Nurture debate, have I passed the tendency to fear irrationally onto my children genetically, or am I simply teaching them to fear the world by putting my own neurosis on display day after day?

I guess the end result is the same either way: two kids who use an inordinate amount of hand sanitizer and who don’t trust the mailman. On the upside, it’s kind of fun to see what the kids will be scared of next. There were a couple of weeks where both kids feared all kinds of different shellfish. For a few of days, my daughter was scared of iguanas. Who knows what fears will surface in the future! Cumulus clouds? Cured meats? Republicans? Cloggers? The sky’s the limit.

Let me know what you or your kids are scared of. The weirder the better. No judgment here.



39 thoughts on “I Learned It From Watching You, Dad!

  1. I love this post. I drilled it into my kids that they had to wear seat belts. My son, who is now 20, was terrified of not wearing a seat belt or putting it on properly. When the kids would fight in the back seat on the way to pre-school I would threaten that I would take his seat belt off. Worked like a charm, but does that make me a terrible mother? My daughter who is 16 now said she could see ghosts in the house and wouldn’t sleep in her own room or with the lights off. She didn’t sleep alone until she was 13! She still sleeps with lights on. I guess we all push things onto our kids without even realizing it. Though, you are right. It is slightly entertaining to see what their next irrational fear will be.

  2. Top 6 list of my childrens’ fears:
    1.) Coyotes (and no, we do not live in the desert)
    2.) Crocodiles (nor do we live near any known swamps)
    3.) Anything deemed “disgusting” by 4-yr old big sister
    4.) The Dark – but only when in the dark alone in own room; in mom & dad’s room for some reason “the dark” is not scary.
    5.) Tornadoes – OK, I get this one…and it’s defintely my fault. That shit is terrifying.
    6.) this one differs for each of my kids
    6a.) 2-yr old: Cheese (do NOT joke about putting cheese on her food, or tears will ensue!)
    6b.) 4-yr old: going to a school with no markers (perhaps my fault due to a one-time, very creative, made-up threat)

  3. My husband has a fear of marionettes. Whenever we watch The Sound of Music he averts his eyes when they sing The Lonely Goatherd. He also got a little nervous when we had to drive through Marinette, Wisconsin. The town’s name was just too close to the word marionette, and he was pretty sure the entire place was inhabited by puppets.

    • A totally legit fear in my book. Tell your husband he has my support. And I’ll call my father in law out here: he’s scared of flying monkeys. Like the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz, which are kind of scary when you think about it.

  4. Excellent post, I can so relate to that being pushed in to traffic by a stranger thing! Which makes no sense, I live in the country!

    My son was scared to stay in the tub while the water drained, he thought the drain would suck you to hell if you didn’t get out of the water before pulling the plug, he also thought angels were stalking him trying to suck his soul out (he was 4 with those two, he’s 21 now and seems to only be afraid of small children, mostly my youngest daughter, she’s 8). The middle daughter was afraid of everything, including (I kid you not) her own shadow. My youngest is afraid of aliens, Mummies and accidently being sucked through a wormhole to a world that doesn’t have pizza.

    I don’t believe I “gave them” their irrational fears but, I’m not going to say I didn’t occasionally scream “OH MY GOD! Don’t turn around, your shadow’s RIGHT BEHIND YOU!” 😉

  5. My 4-year old boy is scared of not being loved enough. Even after he throws his plastic rat in his 6-month old sister’s face, he keeps asking, “Daddy, you still love me?”

    “Not after that rat-crap you just pulled, son.”

  6. Love this post! Reminds me of the movie ‘Bandits’. Billy Bob Thornton plays this character that was afraid of almost everything. Then he thought he had a tumor and asked people if they smelled burning feathers.

    Funny how your son is afraid of turning four, when some of us are afraid of reaching forty. I wish I could be four again. Or better yet, go back to kindergarten. 🙂

  7. Liliana is already afraid of dying ( she’s 3.5yrs) and tells me quite frequently ” I don’t want to go be with Jesus”. I’ve told her it’s a good place with all the cupcakes she can eat and she’s still scared…

  8. I loved this post. My irrational fear is bats. I’m not exactly sure why because, here in Alberta, they aren’t very prevalent but there you have it. My friends are always teasing me about them getting into my hair (I’m bald). As you can tell they are very supportive.

  9. For the public toilet fear, I take small hand sanitizer every where I go. Hate to touch the door of public toilets, seen way to many people that does not like to wash their hands before leaving. I don’t think it’s the fear that you are pushing into your children, I think it’s the curiosity, your children are simply wondering “Why daddy is scared of the little things” and what to learn more about it, later they will come to their own conclusion fear it or live with it. Curiosity is a very healthy obsession for a kids. The turning 4 thing must have something to do with school.

  10. When I was younger, I was terrified of the car wash. I had to get out and wait at the end, until my husband came through with the car. I think I was about thirty-five. Just kidding, I was thirty.

  11. My eldest daughter was terrified of being sucked down the plug hole of the bath. This was entirely my fault after pretending to be sucked away while she was too short to see over the side. My youngest has no fear. I have a phobia of socks. This is no laughing matter. Neither daughter seems to be learning this fear.

  12. OMG this post was hilarious. I laughed out loud many times in reading it. Well done.
    Also love the replies by other readers. -great stuff!
    I don’t have kids to share what they are afraid of, but I can relate to your son’s not wanting to turn 4. I remember when I was young, I wanted to be like Peter Pan, I fought very hard with myself to not grow up. Didn’t work.
    Keep up the great writing. Thoroughly entertaining.

  13. Great post, I am about 9 weeks away from beginning this whole parent thing, and while irrational fears weren’t necessarily top of my list to worry about, I now have an irrational fear that I may pass on my irrational fears….I can’t even remember what all of mine are! They just pop up out of the blue.

  14. My husband is afraid of spiders – yes I know, a really common phobia, but both his daughters are terrified of them. I’m sure it is in the gene pool so don’t blame yourself about the volcano thing. Couldn’t be helped any more than the number of fingers and toes they have.

  15. Tape! Can’t stand it sticking to me. It’s actually part of a larger fear. Anything that wants to attach itself to me – leeches, children, girlfriends ( hmmm… seems to be a pattern you say?) etc…….

  16. I’m still terrified of what is underneath my bed. Still have to check before going to sleep at night. I believe there was some horror movie that must have scarred me here??? So sad. So embarrassed. 😦

  17. Pingback: “Pese kätesi ennen ruokaa, Mars !” « MORE OR LESS LIFE !

  18. My daughter who is now 15, had a fear of self-flushing toilets. She also freaked out when I once went to the bathroom (not to poop) on an airplane b/c she thought I was getting off the plane in mid-air to do that. She doesn’t like anyone touching her wrists and also doesn’t want to get older.

    I have a weird fear of freaking out and sticking my tongue on a hot oven rack and burning a line across my tongue but I figure I have control over that so it probably won’t happen.

    Yeah, we’re fine.

    • self flushing toilets can be a little disconcerting. it’s a technology that, in the wrong hands, could easily be manipulated for evil.

  19. Your blog is hilarious. I have two little girls, and they are some reason both afraid of flies? They will pick up worms all day (I am afraid of worms…or used to be, now I just get grossed out), my youngest is afraid of the Halloween decorations (normal). Funny, my 4 yr old has had the same age discussion with me about turning 5. Kids…

  20. I think there are a large number of us in those early years that had an irrational concern and fear over 2 things that have never really been much of an issue for most adults. Volcanoes/Lava and Quicksand. It was a sound fear back in those days for some reason.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s