Buzz Bishop stepped onto the third rail of parenthood this week.
He admitted he has a favorite child.
And, as is so often the case with third rails, the response has shocked him. It has also changed him.
All this began about a week ago when the Canadian radio host and writer reminisced on Babble Kids about how his oldest son, Zacharie, was conceived just two months into his relationship with his now wife, Jennifer. Near the end of that post he wrote "If I were to be absolutely honest, my older son is my favorite of the two," because the boy opened him up to a life he never thought he would have.
Using the word "favorite" raised more than a few readers' eyebrows, leading Bishop to follow up the next day with an explanation. "Admit It, You Have A Favorite Kid. I Do." was the title of the post, and in it he wrote: "my oldest son is my favorite because he can do more things. To me, he's more fun. I don't love either of my sons any more than the other, but I do like them differently. I'd be willing to bet you're the same."
That just made things worse. His words were reprinted around the globe. He was called by everyone from Dr. Phil (which he declined) to Good Morning America (which he accepted.) And he spent hours reading the comments, responding to almost all of them.
Nadine Lumley said: "I think Dads who don't fall in love with their kids until they can 'do stuff' suck."
Bishop answered: "I prefer to take judgement from my friends and family and people who know me."
When Zchamu said: "When your other child reads it it's gonna stab him in the heart and any amount of your logical reasoning isn't going to fix that."
Bishop replied: "I doubt my kids will roll through the reams of thousands of posts I have written. If they do, I trust they'll have a more personal understanding of me, and where they stand than an anonymous internet commenter who has no understanding of our family dynamic."
Then, along the way, he began to change his mind.
"It does make you think, and see how what you are saying could be interpreted," he told me this morning when I reached him at home by phone. "I also see how putting this out there publicly could cause problems dowm the road if the boys read it."
It's not like he hadn't thought of that already, he said, but he'd figured, what were the odds that his boys, who are now two and five and don't know anything about Google, would read this particular post?
Almost 100 percent, he now knows.
I learned that first hand recently. I wrote a magazine article thirteen years ago about how I was the mother of two sons but had always wanted a girl. Among other things I wrote about how I was certain that my first child was Emma, and how surprised I was to meet Evan in the delivery room.
Evan is 21 now, and he happened to read that article. He knows how fiercely I love him. He knows that even in the article I wrote that I had left my wishes for a girl behind, and he could tell from knowing me every day that I never looked back. And yet, if I had stopped while I was writing to envision the look on his face when he would find out years later would I have published the article? I'm not sure that I would.
Bishop is having second thoughts too. Some are about the wording of the post, but others are about the way he parents his sons. By last night the tenor of his responses to criticism in the comments had changed. "I can say this discussion has caused me to reflect on my life and take steps to balance the scales," he wrote.
When "Good Morning America" sent a camera crew and filmed the family walking down the street together, he realized they fell into their "default roles."
"I thought, 'Holy cow, I am doing it, this is just how we always go, me taking Zacharie's hand and Jennifer taking Charlie's,'" he told me over the phone.
So, not coincidentally, when we spoke this morning, he was snuggling on the couch with the younger boy, while his wife fed the older boy breakfast. "This has definitely made me pay more attention," he said.
I hope it also makes him quiet down.
I agree with Bishop that preferring one child over another -- at least some of the time -- is something many parents feel. I also believe in the wisdom of crowds, and the responsibility parents have to each other to speak honestly rather than perpetuating the myth that everyone else is doing this parenting thing with total ease.
But more than all of that I believe there are a handful of things that should not be said in the spotlight on center stage. Only a handful. And in an era where little pitchers have big ears, magnified million fold by a technology that remembers everything, this is one of them.
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