If you know me and my kids personally, you’ll know that my kids and I all share a love for the macabre! This is something that I’m super proud of. Maybe it’s because I can see the effects of parenting and I love the idea of molding these little minds to think the way I do, or maybe it’s because I love seeing other people’s reactions to my kids singing made up songs about severed heads while laughing hysterically. I don’t entirely know why their dark side makes me feel proud, but I love it and certainly don’t plan on changing anything! Believe it or not though, I do think about what my children are exposed to. I have a collection of horror books and movies on a book shelf in my closet that are just for me (and my wife when I can convince her that “It” really won’t be that scary). I’ve written in previous blogs and various channels of social media that I was exposed to horror and the macabre at a young age. I have memories as early as 4 years old of watching Stephen King movies and being scared senseless of little trolls in jester hats coming after me with crooked daggers. Not to mention the actual kid movies and stories I was obsessed with growing up, i.e., The Nightmare Before Christmas, Hokus Pocus, The Addams Family, the Halloween Tree…
My children have a deep appreciation for some of the horror icons we all know and love. They have hand painted Jack and Sally peg dolls, they play Dracula and The Wolf Man all the time and on more than one occasion, I’ve found my girls frumpily walking around like Frankenstein’s Monster, and yes, they know the difference between Frankenstein and his monster. These actions are partially in response to movies that they watch regularly, like Alvin and the Chipmunks meet the Wolf Man and Frankenstein or Tim Burton’s various creations. However, a large part of why they enjoy these things is because I love them!
If you have children or work around them, you’ll notice that when they like you, they want to be like you and they want to like the things that you like. This is a huge responsibility! Having kids is absolutely amazing, humbling, exhausting and terrifying. Uncle Ben wasn’t kidding. The power you have over these little lives is daunting. You shape who your child becomes in this world, either by leading them directly or indirectly. These little humans look to their fathers and mothers and learn how to ‘adult’ through what ever example is in front of them. When you see teaching opportunities and take them, telling your kids what to do and what not to do, or when your wife has had a hard day but you come home, pour a glass of bourbon and turn on the tv to what ever garbage the CW is feeding you that night. They see it all, they learn from it all.
My kids are weirdos. They howl like wolves, they pretend they’re monster and they fight the forces of darkness on a daily basis. As a father in the good ‘ol US of A, our job is to provide and protect our families. Part of that protection is sheltering them on a psychological level. I love that my kids can be creeps and I love that they can be sweet. I want them to like the things that I like, to read the books that I read and have a passion for the things I have a passion for, but I will not expose my kids to things that I feel will hurt or scar them. …intentionally. If you’re a parent, you know from the day your kid is born that your mind has changed. You think about things and look at the diffently.
I’d mentioned earlier that I have very strong memories about my exposure to horror and that my kids love monster cartoons and anything involving the characters they know and love. Browsing through Netflix, my middle child (4 yrs.) is constantly scanning for the darkest looking, creepiest covers of movies to watch. When she sees the movie and it meets the creep factor she’s built in her head, all she wants is to see that movie. My oldest (6 yrs.) is very similar, but lets the princesses and fairies occasionally distract her from grim. Recently, this all lead to an unfortunate eye-opening experience for them…
When I allow my kids to pick movies and they’re both in the mood for something creepy, not only do I make sure that I am in the Kids & Family category of Netflix, I read each synopsis, and if necessary, do a quick content search to see just how dark this movie is going to be. The unfortunate part came in when I forgot to mention this thought out breakdown to my grandmother the night we had her watch my kids. They scrolled through Netflix, into the “Continue Watching” category and stumbled upon a horror anthology that very much looked like something we’d all watch together. The intro opens with a very Halloweeny animation, taking you through directors of the films and images of the stories that are about to be told, some of which more graphic than I would typically allow, but take a decent deal of attention to catch on to. The first story opens with kid on Halloween being duped by his brother and his girlfriend into leaving out his candy as a sacrifice to a ghost of the night so that his insides wouldn’t be turned out for the chocolate that he had finished. After the kid is convinced, he goes to bed, already terrified and leaves his brother and his girlfriend to eat all of his candy. As it turns out, the legend the older brother was spouting was true and the younger brother ends up stumbling upon his brother and his girlfriend disemboweled by a 6’ zombie clown covered in blood. That clown also happens to be standing right behind the kid. Nothing is left to the imagination in this scene. Needless to say, my girls were a little on the terrified side. As they were screaming, my oldest yelled to my grandmother to turn it off as my middle child stood, eyes locked on the screen in terror. They’ve mostly forgotten their experience, and as far a I know, no longer associate my grandmother with candy crazed, demon clowns. Come to think of it, it was her that I first watched the Cat’s Eye with back in ’94… Maybe I should look into that.
I take my job as a father seriously, and with that I take the call to protect them seriously. There’s a draw to horror that I understand. They love scary stories and I love telling them, but my first priority is their safety, physically and mentally. I know what my kids can handle and I know what they can’t. Yes, there is an element of trial and error when it comes to their thresholds of morbid tales, but that’s when I’m most attentive to their emotions and demeanor. If you’re present, you know how to read your kids.
Having kids changes you. Your priorities and desires change. For most parents, their desires change for the betterment of their kids. Unfortunately this isn’t always the case. Some parents stick to their old self-centered, self-sustaining ways. Their children’s needs come well after their own are met. I love horror, but I love my children more. Their needs and desires will always come before my own and while I’m with my kids, we will enjoy the scary stories we tell in the dark together.