The worst parents of 2011

December 12, 2011

Good morning. This is the rant I delivered at The Paper Machete this weekend.

Every Christmas Eve my parents perform an annual rite. After we’ve escaped the children’s Mass at church and enjoyed an extra-fancy dinner prepared by my mother and served to us on Christmas-themed china in the dining room, we all retire to the family room with the dogs to drink wine, listen to Christmas carols and open presents.

The present opening is an orgy of generosity and paper-tearing that wouldn’t be complete without a bow being tied around the bigger dog or the smaller dog being placed in an empty gift-box. But the evening is not without its own particular brand of strife. Every year, my dad will lift a carefully-chosen article of clothing my mom has given him halfway out of the box, hold it up to his body, and say “Why did you get it in this size?” Then he’ll gingerly lay it back into the box. “See how he doesn’t even take it all the way out of the box? That means it’s going back,” my mom will announce. It’s a little awkward, but I guess being married for 40 years means you get to do without the niceties of pretending to like something your spouse gave you or pretending like you don’t see through your spouse’s obvious hatred of your gift.

I see this little routine as being completely avoidable, but in the big picture, it’s a small price of holiday tension to pay. I could be Amy or Anne Blagojevich, who may be spending their last Christmas with their father for a long, long time. I pity these girls in so many ways: for having a soon-to-be-absent father, for being thrust into the spotlight and for having jerk parents in general. Blagojevich, prior to his sentencing, used his daughters as a reason for why he should receive a light sentence. I, along with the judge and many others, said “If Blagojevich cared so much about his daughters, why didn’t he think of them before he did anything wrong in the first place?” Blagojevich either lacked the compassion to think what exactly would happen to his family if he got caught, or, more likely, just figured he’d get away with everything forever, which is a wonderful lesson and attitude to pass onto your children.


2011 was a pretty good year for high-profile terrible parents. Lately, everyone’s favorite Bad Mom is Kris Jenner, mother to Kim as well  several other assorted Kardashians and Jenners. Shortly after Kim’s high profile wedding and even more high-profile divorce, Jenner was on the talk show circuit, promoting her new book and discussing her daughter’s personal affairs. Just recently, on “Extra,” Jenner was quoted as saying “"You can't judge anybody else,” in regards to the public backlash her daughter has received. Coincidentally, it was announced on the same day that Jenner would serve as a judge in the Miss America pageant, so you can judge other people, just so long as you get paid to do so and it’s televised. Not content for us to know the personal information of just three of her daughters, Jenner is reportedly hard at work trying to ruin the lives of her other daughters, pushing for a new reality show for her daughters Kendall and Kylie. Between Kim’s divorce, Khloe’s fertility issues and Kourtney dating the guy from American Psycho, I’m a little worried about what skeletons lurk in the youngest daughters’ closets. I’m sure Kris will find a way of making sure we all know, talking about it and then shaming us for any sort of judgmental reaction.

Kris Jenner is simply picking up the mantle of Dina Lohan, the original Cool Mom who wouldn’t let something as petty as her daughter’s substance-abuse problems stop her from going out clubbing with her substance-abusing daughter or appearing on TV shows discussing her daughter’s substance-abuse problems or talking about how much she loathes her daughter’s substance-abusing father. Lohan has been fairly quiet of late, but she can be proud of the fact that her younger daughter, 17-year-old Aliana, is pursuing a career in modeling which is a field known for cultivating good self-esteem, healthy habits, a supportive peer group and long-term stability in young women. Dina has said publicly that she’s still proud of Lindsay, whose career has taken her to the place every mother wishes for her daughter: flashing her talent in Playboy magazine because she doesn’t have enough money left to pay her bills. Good job Dina. You are super-cool. My mom doesn’t even have hair extensions.

Then there’s Krista Keller, who’s noteworthy for being the mother of Courtney Stodden. Stodden made headlines this year for being a 16-year-old girl who married 51-year-old actor Doug Hutchison, like it’s 1958 and he’s Jerry Lee Lewis or something. Stodden has also made a name for herself for her scandalous outfits, bizarre TV appearances (like a spot on Dr. Drew’s show to have her boobs scanned to make sure they’re real) and hilariously lascivious and alliterative Twitter account (a Tweet from Thursday night reads “Mr. Moist Saint Nick: As I magnetically dangle this magical mistletoe above my mere mysteriousness... I imagine your mouth smooching mine...”)  Stodden’s mother, who is the same age as her son-in-law, has blessed the union as well as Stodden’s forthcoming TV show and has explained away people’s issues with her daughter as jealousy.  I can’t help but think where I was at sixteen. I didn’t know who I was, and probably even shouldn't have been allowed to have a driver’s license, let alone a husband and a house and a reality show and stripper-shoes. Assuming your sixteen year old is mature enough to get married means you probably thought your four year old was responsible enough to stay home by herself while you went out.  

And I would be remiss in talking about the worst parents in 2011 without touching upon Casey Anthony. So now I’ve done that.

I’m the proud survivor of good parenting and I’ve been happy to learn that many creative, successful people also came to a fulfilling adulthood despite having parents who supported them the traditional, non-televised way. In Bossypants, Tina Fey waxes about how her father is her hero, and in Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me? Mindy Kaling talks about how her parents’ marriage is her model for matrimony, seeing as how they’re buddies and all. On WTF with Marc Maron last week, magician Penn Jillette described that one of the reasons why he’s an atheist is because nothing was more provable to him than his own mother’s love.

I wish that my parents would figure out how to avoid their annual present fight, but at the same time, if that’s the extent of the annual Zulkey holiday drama, I can handle it. Because neither of my parents is going to jail. Because they would still tell me, gently, if they think I’m doing something that’s unwise. Neither of them think it’ll be a good idea if I publish my vagina in a magazine and neither of them is going on television to discuss my marriage. My parents being good parents may be what’s holding me back from being famous, but you know what, I really don’t mind.