Why Un-Cool Is The New Rule

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My son gave me “the look” for the first time the other day. You know the one I’m talking about — where, with one exasperated roll of the eyes, your once sweet, adoring child conveys the message that you are hopelessly, irredeemably … un-cool.
My first reaction was denial. My son must have been directing his eye-roll at some older, lamer dad sitting behind me because — me — un-cool? That just wasn’t possible.

I was the first kid in fifth grade to wear a Members Only jacket. I started listening to U2 while other kids my age were still singing “Row Your Boat,” and I can quote long passages of The Breakfast Club by heart. Only a neo-maxi-zoom-dweebie could fail to see how “with it” I am. Besides, I was a champion eye-roller myself as a teen, acutely aware of, and suitably mortified by, every un-cool thing my parents said, did and wore. Surely, I hadn’t become exactly like them.

Then it hit me: The Breakfast Club is almost 30 years old (likely to be seen next on Turner Classic Movies), the guys in U2 will soon be AARP-eligible and the only remaining members of that once-cool jacket club are grandfathers who have combed the clearance racks at TJ Maxx.

Sure, I’ve tried to keep up with the trends over the years, but at some point I lost the thread. New trends used to make me think, “Oh, that’s cool,” but when kids started wearing baggy jeans halfway down their tushes, my thought was, “How are they ever going to get jobs dressed that way?” And, seeing Lady Gaga for the first time made me long for the wholesome days of Madonna, writhing around in a wedding dress, pretending to be a virgin.

But my son is only 9 and cares more about Harry Potter than Lady Gaga. How could he already think I’m un-cool? After all, I do a stellar Yoda imitation, I’ve written animated movies for a living and I introduced him to the music of Weird Al. On paper, I should be pretty darn cool to a 9-year-old boy. Why, pray tell, the eye-roll?

The answer came to me one night after I made him turn off an episode of Phineas and Ferb to practice his multiplication tables. So what if I can also do a solid Dr. Doofenshmirtz impression? I’m still the guy who says, “Turn off the TV, iPad, iPod, Kindle” or other fun gadget he may be enjoying, instead ordering him to do all the things he doesn’t want to do.

Whatever “cool points” are awarded because I’m able to play “Stairway” on guitar vanish the moment I make him clean his room, brush his teeth or refrain from pulverizing his little brothers. Sadly, it seems as if being a good parent and a cool parent are mutually exclusive. Sure, your kids may love you — they may even like you to an extent — but as long as you’re doing your job as a parent, they’re not going to think you’re cool.

Take one of the most universally agreed upon cool guys in the world: Brad Pitt. Movie star? Check. Good-looking? Reportedly. Playing house with Angelina Jolie? Roger that. But when he makes his kids put away their toys, they probably think he’s the biggest tool in the world. So, unless you think you’re a whole lot cooler than Brad Pitt, my advice to parents is to stop trying to be cool altogether.

Being cool requires a certain blasé indifference toward the world that’s hard to fake when you’ve stayed up half the night googling “potty training techniques” in a panicked effort to ensure your 3½-year-old won’t still be wearing diapers at his bar mitzvah. Parents can do anxious, stressed and exhausted quite well, but “cool” is best left to the young and unencumbered.

So, go ahead parents and embrace your minivan driving, mom jean-wearing, 529-contributing selves. Embarrass your kids with exuberant displays of affection and over-the-top declarations of love. Don’t worry about the resultant eye-rolls because your kids were never going to think you were cool anyway. As parents, we care too much to be cool; someday our kids might thank us for that.

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