The Meming of Life: on secular parenting and other natural wonders

Pick a number

A few reruns while I recuperate from finishing the book and spend time with the fam. Here’s one from October 2008.


“Hmm, okay, twenty-eight. Ooh, that’s a good one.”

Despite living with him for thirteen years, I knew very little about my dad. He worked three jobs and traveled a lot. When he was in town, he came home exhausted from a hundred-mile round-trip commute.

My mom spoke very little of him after he died, consumed as she was with the lonely and impossible task of raising three kids by herself two time zones away from any other relatives while working full time.

I’ve often wondered how much my kids would remember of me if I keeled over today. The situation is different — I’m much more involved in my kids’ lives for several reasons — but I wanted a way of sharing myself and my life with my kids in a natural way.

About five or six years ago, without even meaning to, I found a way. We started a storytelling tradition in our family called “age stories.” Simple premise: the kids pick an age (“Twenty-eight!”)  and I tell about something that happened to me at that age. It’s become one of their favorite bedtime story options.

Through age stories, they now know about my life at age 4 (broken arm, courtesy of my hobby at the time–walking on a row of metal trash cans), age 9 (I stole a pack of Rollos from Target and felt so bad I fed them to my dog, nearly killing her), age 21 (when I broke up with my first girlfriend and got dumped myself by the second one), 23 (my crushing fear and uncertainty on graduating college), 25 (the cool job that allowed me to meet Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr., Jimmy Stewart, Elton John, and a hundred other famous types), 26 (when I pursued and stole their mother’s affections from the studley Air Force pilot she was practically engaged to), what happened on the days they were born, and everything — really, at this point, just about everything — in between.

They know how I tricked a friend into quitting pot (for a night, anyway, at 15), the surreal week that followed my dad’s death (13), how I nearly cut off two fingers by reaching under a running lawnmower (17, shutup), my battles with the college where I taught (40), the time I was nearly hit by a train in Germany (38) and nearly blown off a cliff in a windstorm in Scotland (42).

Age stories can also open up important issues in an unforced way. Delaney happened to ask for “eleven” (the year my parents moved us from St. Louis to LA) right before her parents moved her from Minneapolis to Atlanta — a very difficult time for her. I described my own tears and rage, and the fact that I had held on to my bedpost the day of the move — and how well it turned out in the end. I wasn’t surprised when she asked for “eleven” again and again during that hard transition in her own life.

We’ve talked about love, lust, death, fear, joy, lying, courage, cowardice, mistakes, triumphs, uncertainty, embarrassment, and the personal search for meaning in ways that no lecture could ever achieve. They’ve come to know their dad not just as the middle-aged monkey he is now, but as a little boy, a teenager, a twentysomething, stumbling up the very path they’re on now.

And they keep coming back for more.

Give it a try. Make it dramatic. Include lots of details and dialogue. Have fun. Then come back here and tell us how it went.

Five For Fighting – 100 Years



It is finished.

Well, not really. Still have to write the front matter and Chapter 1 (called the “Dummies chapter”). And there’s still the four-week author review round, where I go through the whole manuscript annotated with the comments of three editors (technical, project, and development) and iron it out. But the hard part — the Creation — that’s done.

The end was pretty ugly, just pushing the words out. I seriously don’t want to hear the word atheist or any of its relatives again for three months.

Because I didn’t write the book in sequence, you’ll have to figure out which chapter I wrote last. It’s not terrible, just mundane. I’ll see if I can spackle some cracks in the review round, perk it up a bit. But overall, for a ten-month project done in four months, I think the book came out all right.

Thanks so much for your help. This blog will be quiet for a little while now. Please pull the door all the way shut on your way out. It sticks.

Q: The Horsemen

I’m finishing up the chapter on great works of atheism in the 21st century. One of the things I’m trying to offer is a way for the uninitiated to think about the books of the Four Horsemen — Harris (End of Faith), Dawkins (God Delusion), Dennett (Breaking the Spell), and Hitchens (God Ain’t All That). They tend to be lumped together, but they’re dramatically different in tone and approach.

One last question then:

Q: What insight would you offer the uninitiated reader about any or all of these four books?

It might be something that surprised or irritated you, a suggestion about which one to read first — anything at all.

As an example, I might make the point that Dawkins’s tone in TGD is a lot less contemptuous and angry than most people expect. I rank him third out of the four on the Contemptometer.

(These aren’t the only books I’ll be talking about, of course, but they’re the ones I’d like to have your thoughts on.)


I’m starting to appreciate the short timeline of this thing. Just 72 hours to go before the deadline, I can’t wait to be done. Not just because it’s monopolized my time and attention for four months, but because I’m driving myself crazy running up a sand dune.

This book is supposed to give a snapshot of atheism today (among many other things), but atheism won’t stand still. Every time I finish a chapter, there’s news that trumps what I wrote. I quoted the nonreligious numbers from ARIS in several chapters (15.1% of the US), only to have the Pew study bump that to 20%. I try to count the heads of SSA chapters and they keep growing new heads. I said there was one atheist in Congress. Then he lost his seat after 40 years. Then I found out an Arizona rep, Kyrsten Sinema, is an out atheist…but her race was too close to call. Then they called it, and she won. So there’s one atheist in Congress, but I have to change the name.

And what if John Boehner suddenly comes out?

It goes on like this. I have an errata sheet as long as my arm, and I can fix those during the author review period between now and December 18. But who knows how much will change by the time the book comes out in March?

It’s a good time to be writing about the movement. Much more exciting than it was even ten years ago. I’ll just have to insert the phrase “At this writing…” before every number, name, and fact in the damn thing.