THE WISDOM OF PARENTHOOD: An Essay
(November 17, 2013)

“... beautifully articulated, profoundly moving, enlightening and inspiring ...” --Donna Murphy

(Visit Michael Eskin's blog at: www.thewisdomofparenthood.com)


Available as an eBook at Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Sony, Kobo, Apple, Blio, Diesel and other fine eBook retailers.


ISBN 978-1-935830-25-2 (Softcover with French flaps)
ISBN 978-1-935830-26-9 (eBook)

If parenthood were a function of biology, adoptive parents, for instance, ought not to be considered parents — which is absurd. Thus, it follows that biology cannot be an essential component of parenthood.  Concomitantly, if parenthood were merely a function of law, all those who have parented children without being their legal parents would be stripped of their de facto parenthood ... If, then, parenthood is neither a function of biology nor simply law — what is it? What does being a parent truly mean? Rooted in the author’s own experience as a father of three, The Wisdom of Parenthood is an insightful, original, and provocative philosophical meditation on the meaning, experience, and practice of parenthood.

REVIEWS

“An insightful, intelligent exploration of parenthood — no matter where and how your children came to be in your life — The Wisdom of Parenthood is a book one can read over and over again. There is so much to absorb that it is one to keep going back to. It is a manual for parenthood — truly a philosophy of parenting to live by.”

CAROL CIANCUTTI, acclaimed director of Absolutely Safe


“A powerful argument for an understanding of parenthood based on the daily actions, the real practice of parenting as opposed to our children’s origins. Speaking from experience, Michael Eskin takes the reader on a wonderfully substantiated path to a conclusion that will be reassuring to anyone considering adoption, or anyone who has ever parented.”

JILL LARSON, Emmy-nominated cast member of All My Children


“... beautifully articulated, profoundly moving, enlightening and inspiring ... The Wisdom of Parenthood has already shifted my perspective, in some ways renewed it, but definitely also imbued me with some new ways of thinking and understanding and taking pride in my role as a mother and stepmother ...”

DONNA MURPHY, Tony Award-winning actress and singer


“Finally we have a real thinker who dispels the ‘blood is thicker than water’ myth in persuasively showing that, in fact, the wisdom and commitment of deliberate love — not DNA — are thicker, richer, deeper ... Michael Eskin offers an enlightened understanding of true parenthood ‘beyond necessity’, which is as essential to the survival of the soul as water is to the body.”

LOUIE B. FREE, host of The Louie b. Free Show


ISBN 978-1-935830-25-2 (Softcover with French flaps)
ISBN 978-1-935830-26-9 (eBook)
Publication Date: Fall 2013


ABOUT THE WISDOM OF PARENTHOOD

If parenthood were a function of biology, adoptive parents, for instance, ought not to be considered parents — which is absurd. Thus, it follows that biology cannot be an essential component of parenthood.  Concomitantly, if parenthood were merely a function of law, all those who have parented children without being their legal parents would be stripped of their de facto parenthood ... If, then, parenthood is neither a function of biology nor simply law — what is it? What does being a parent truly mean?

Rooted in the author’s own experience as a father of three, The Wisdom of Parenthood is an insightful, original, and provocative philosophical meditation on the meaning, experience, and practice of parenthood both as a universally human phenomenon across history and, more specifically, in the age of assisted reproduction, in vitro fertilization, gestational surrogacy, “third-party production,” international adoption, and the transformation of the very notion of the nuclear family with the rise of same-sex and LGBT parenting.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Eskin, Ph.D., was educated in Israel, Germany, France, Minnesota, and New Jersey, and is the cofounder and Vice President of Upper West Side Philosophers, Inc. – Studio & Publishing, as well as the Vice President of SCALG, the Society for Contemporary American Literature in German. A former Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, he has also taught at the University of Cambridge and at Columbia University. His many publications on cultural, philosophical, and literary subjects include: Nabokovs Version von Puskins “Evgenij Onegin”: Zwischen Version und Fiktion – eine übersetzungs- und fiktionstheoretische Untersuchung (1994); Ethics and Dialogue in the Works of Levinas, Bakhtin, Mandel’shtam, and Celan (2000); On Literature and Ethics: A Special Edition of Poetics Today (2004); Poetic Affairs: Celan, Grünbein, Brodsky (2008); 17 Vorurteile, die wir Deutschen gegen Amerika und die Amerikaner haben und die so nicht ganz stimmen können (under the pseudonym ‘Misha Waiman’; 2008); Philosophical Fragments of a Contemporary Life (under the pseudonym ‘Julien David’; 2008); The DNA of Prejudice: On the One and the Many (2010); The Bars of Atlantis: Selected Essays by Durs Grünbein (as editor; 2010); Yoga for the Mind: A New Ethic for Thinking and Being & Meridians of Thought (with Kathrin Stengel; 2013). He has been a frequent guest on radio programs and lectures regularly on cultural, philosophical, and literary subjects across the US and Europe – most recently, as a guest of the United States Department of State and the United States Consulate General Germany, The Federation of German-American Clubs, and Limmud, an international organization fostering cross-cultural Jewish education.


The Wisdom of Parenthood — Michael Eskin in Conversation


What inspired you to write about ‘parenthood’ as you did in The Wisdom of Parenthood?

As a father of three, I felt the need to articulate my views on what it means to be a parent to my children — to give them something that would not only allow them to better understand me as their father, but that would also be something they could turn to for inspiration and guidance should they ever choose to and be fortunate enough to become parents themselves. Laying out what I take to be the essence of parenthood — irrespective of how our children come to us, of how we become parents — was particularly important to me in light of my experience as both a biological and an adoptive parent confronted with our society’s deep-seated—if not always overtly expressed—bias in favor of biological parenthood as the only real kind parenthood.

How did this book come about?

Although we live in a world where, as Carlos Ball has aptly noted, “there are tens of thousands of children born every year ... who are not biologically related to all the adults who intend to be their parents, and who will actually function as such,” many among us continue to hold the view that true parenthood implies a mother and a father who conceive and, ideally, raise their offspring. Other forms of parenthood frequently find themselves tacitly relegated to second place. That this view of parenthood is still widely held becomes palpably evident in situations where parenthood would appear to go into crisis or is perceived to be failing: Think of all the situations in which you have heard of children and parents not getting along, or parents being at a loss as to how to deal with their children’s problems, troubles, or special needs, and someone will say, “no wonder—he is adopted!,” or “it’s not really their child, they had a donor!” Think of all the times you have heard someone marvel at or doubt the possibility of really loving a child that is not one’s “own flesh and blood.” Thus, I have frequently been given to understand by friends, family, and acquaintances that it is truly noble of me to have taken on another’s “flesh and blood” and to have been such an engaged and doting father to my adopted sons, while I have had no such comments on my relationship with my biological son — it being ostensibly assumed that I naturally and ineluctably love and care for my “own flesh and blood,” while merely having shouldered the morally commendable burden of raising another’s.

Thinking through these issues, I realized that I had something to offer to all parents, above and beyond my initial desire to primarily address my three sons — something that would allow any parent to re-conceive his or her role as a parent as well as the very meaning of parenthood in a more inclusive and non-prejudicial manner that would bring into sharp relief what all parenthood has in common, rather than distinguishing between classes of parenthood.

What, would you say, is the main or most important insight, thought, or proposition of your book?

Adoption is the truth of parenthood. This proposition is the nub of The Wisdom of Parenthood. And while it may sound counterintuitive and all too provocative, it makes perfect sense if you consider the following:

1. Since paternity and maternity do not necessarily lead to parenthood, being biologically related to our offspring cannot be an essential component of parenthood. For if it were, only biological parents could be considered parents — which is an untenable (if not absurd) proposition in view of the countless biological ‘parents’ who have abrogated or defaulted on their parenthood throughout history, and, conversely, in view of the countless biological strangers who have been de facto (if not always de jure) parents to myriads of children.

2. Thus, whatever parenthood is, it cannot be a function of biology and procreation. This doesn’t mean, of course, that parents cannot also be, and often are, biologically related to their children; it only means that it is not biological kinship that makes a parent (— just think of all the egg and sperm donors who are biologically related to children whom they will never parent). So what does make a parent?

3. What makes a parent is the irrevocable commitment to and assumption of responsibility for another human being. And this is most saliently and poignantly evidenced in adoption — understood as a cultural/legal practice and, more importantly, as a way of living and being, as an ethic — precisely because, unlike the propagation of the species through procreation, adoption is by definition not a natural/instinctual necessity, but an act of absolute freedom, pure choice, a true gift.

It is in this sense, then, that adoption can be said to be the truth of parenthood: we first become parents in and through adopting the children we have been entrusted with — be they our own or someone else’s biological offspring. We must ever adopt the children we parent if we want to become their parents.

So, are you suggesting that biology has nothing to do with being a parent?

Yes and no. It would seem to have a lot to do with parenthood in those instances where the parents happen to be biologically related to their children and think that they love them because or insofar as their children are their “own flesh and blood.” In those instances, however, where the parents are not biologically related to their children, biology has obviously nothing whatsoever to do with parenthood. Now, if we concede that biology bears on parenthood in some instances and not in others, we must also concede that it is merely accidental to the concept and overall practice of parenthood. In other words, parenthood — even in biologically related families — is functionally independent of blood kinship, of paternity and maternity. It unfolds in a register utterly distinct from biology, instinct, and drive: Parenthood is an ethical category, it is part of what the Greeks called bios — the life world we create for ourselves; whereas paternity and maternity are part of what the Greeks called zoe — biological, physiological being, life in the purely material sense.

What do you hope to accomplish with The Wisdom of Parenthood?

It is my sincere hope that my book will start a serious conversation about the very meaning and practice of parenthood and contribute to making our world a more hospitable and inclusive place for all parents and children, irrespective of how any given child may have come to its parents. For it is anachronistic, misguided, and discriminatory to hold onto the biological view of parenthood in the age of assisted reproduction, in vitro fertilization, gestational surrogacy, “third-party production,” international adoption, and the continual rise of same-sex and LGBT parenting.

© 2013 Upper West Side Philosophers, Inc.

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