October 1, 2009

If At Firstborn You Don't Succeed

I have spent this whole time trying not to spell it as Fristborn.Growing Up Firstborn: The Pressure and Privilege of Being Number One by Dr. Kevin Leman (Delacorte Press, 1989, ISBN: 0-385-29769-6)

This book was written by: Dr. Kevin Leman, author of Sex Begins in the Kitchen. Dr. Leman believes that a person's position in the family (firstborn, lastborn, etc.) influences their personality, and "finding out about birth order could potentially save any business millions of dollars every year. You could figure out which individuals would make the best salespeople, the best sales managers, which are the most organized, and so on"(p.20). Dr. Leman considers James Dobson "my good friend"(p.141), while Dr. Dobson has told Dr. Leman that "before you do anything, whatever it is, run it by [your wife] Sande first"(p.188).

What is in this book: An examination of the unique characteristics present in firstborn children. "If you want something done properly, get a firstborn to do it! No wonder so many firstborns are doctors, lawyers, engineers—they sit on school boards, on city councils, and in the United States Congress in numbers far greater than their percentage of the population as a whole would dictate"(p.8). Furthermore, "more than half (52 percent [as of 1989]) of the U.S. presidents have been firstborns, and if you want a dramatic example of the differences that exist between firstborns and lastborns, consider Jimmy and Billy Carter"(p.22). These traits are developed by the attention and treatment received by firstborn children. For example, they are expected to do most of the household chores, even though "Little Buford may be the youngest, but he can pick up those dog plops in the backyard and toss them over the fence into the neighbor's yard as well as anyone else in the family"(p.6). And "just as the firstborn child of an alcoholic parent offers suffers the most from his parent's addiction, it is usually the firstborn daughter who must deal with being raped and used by her own father"(p.225). This kind of treatment builds the character necessary to succeed in life, so "please give your folks a break and try to understand that they most likely didn't intend to treat you badly. It's just that they didn't know any better"(p.60).

What is not in this book: Indifference to the burdens that women—especially firstborn women—are forced to bear in modern society. For example, the author discusses how the pressure of being the firstborn child drove one patient to overating, and now "Sandra is a very pretty woman, but this is offset by the fact that she is at least 30 pounds overweight. She is a classic example of the overweight woman who has 'such a pretty face'"(p.55). Dr. Leman points out how women are either disappointed that they cannot live up to society's unobtainable ideals, or deluded into thinking that they have achieved them, like the way that on The Dating Game, "the 'bachelorettes' invariably describe themselves as eights, nines, and tens, which a lot of the time makes you think they bought their mirrors from a carnival funhouse!"(p.94). Also, these days "I am seeing more and more single mothers who are trying to raise their daughters without the benefit of a man's presence in the family, and that is an awfully hard thing to do! [....] Unless there is a positive male influence in the family, the girls will often begin to strike out at one another and at their mother"(p.154).
And then there are the women struggling with past sexual abuse. Dr. Leman has dealt with a large number of abuse victims, and "I have come to the point where I ask my female clients, almost as a matter of routine, 'when were you first molested?'"(p.224) He views this as a serious problem, noting that "I think of sexual abuse as being like taking the finest piece of cloth you can buy, ripping it in half, throwing the pieces in someone's lap, and saying, 'Here, take this to a good seamstress, and you'll never know the difference'"(p.228). You can try to disguise it, but it's still ruined.

For my next trick, I'll command you not to sacrifice your son while he drinks a glass of water.Would you recommend this book to Isaac? No. I would recommend that he read a book about ventriloquism. Introspection and psychological development may be useful, but when your dad is dragging you up mount Moriah with a knife in his hand and a wild look in his eye, it's a good time to know how to throw your voice.

Would you recommend this book to Goofy? No, but it does offer some fascinating insights into his character:

"The next time you feel angry because you've goofed something up or because someone is putting you down, laugh. You may have to force yourself. It may take every bit of energy and acting skill you have, but put a smile on your face and let it roll off your back. You may be dying inside, but you don't need to let anyone else know that."(p.78)

That "Hyuk" laugh of his probably means that he spends all his time in a seething rage.

What is interesting about this book: The suggestion that not all men want to marry their mother. "The marriage of a firstborn female who has younger brothers to a lastborn male with older sisters has a great chance to be especially happy and harmonious"(p.255) Dr. Leman, a lastborn, cites his own marriage as an example, showing how his relationship with his sister taught him how to interact with women:
I remember one of our early conversations, for instance, which went something like this:
"Do you like girls?"
"No way! Yuck, why would I like girls?" I was busy making a scooter, and I didn't even look up. I couldn't figure out why she was bothering me at a time like this. Yes, sir, these old apple crates were going to be perfect for the body, but where was I going to find the right wheels? Hmm . . . I wondered if Sally's old pair of roller skates might work.
"Do you like me?"
This seemed like the best time in the world to like her very much, especially when I thought about those skates.
"Of course I do!"
"But I'm a girl."
"Well, that's different. You're my sister. And you're not like any of the other girls I know. By the way, Sis, you remember those old skates . . ."
"Well, I want to tell you a few things about girls."
Maybe I didn't really want to hear it, but Sally was going to tell me anyway, and so she did. She told me what girls were like, how they ought to be treated, and how you could go about getting a particular girl to like you.
I often think that it's no wonder I married a firstborn, when I got the sort of treatment I received from my firstborn sister!

In fact, Dr. Leman dedicates Growing Up Firstborn to his sister, writing that "You have taught me so much about life that only a big sister can teach a little brother".

Special Award: Bitterly Books is presenting Dr. Leman with the Holy Hat Trick Commendation for Evangelism, Drug Intervention, and the Promotion of Abstinence for turning a potentially hostile situation to his advantage with keen observational skills and good Christian morals.
In Growing Up Firstborn, Dr. Leman recounts how he was appearing on a radio show to promote his book, Sex Begins in the Kitchen. When he looked at the DJ in the broadcast booth, "I noticed for the first time that his eyes were glassy and his pupils dilated. The man appeared to be stoned"(p.161). Dr. Leman took a non-confrontational approach so as not to provoke the drug-addled maniac.
Unfortunately, this put Dr. Leman in a perilous situation when the DJ asked him to answer a question from a 24-year-old virgin who wanted to know if she should save herself for marriage. The DJ "thought I was going to tell this young woman to quit being ridiculous, to get on with 'life,' and probably to give her virginity to the first man who wanted it"(p.162).
Dr. Leman rose to the occasion by giving a morally responsible answer, identifying himself as a born-again Christian, and getting the DJ to admit that "You guys know how I feel about these things—but I kind of like what this guy is saying. I think he's making a lot of sense"(p.163). All while promoting Sex Begins in the Kitchen.
Hopefully, Dr. Leman's message stuck with the DJ even after the drugs wore off, but in the meantime we hope he enjoys his award.

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Beth said...

Your commentary rocks! So smart and funny! You must be a firstborn ;)

I am so glad this man is not my father.

Bitterly Books said...


Actually, you could skew his results either way to include or exclude me since I have older half brothers and sisters, but I was the firstborn from my parents' marriage.

The book had some distressing insights into what it was like to have him as a father. At one point he talked about how he and his wife were trying to get it on, and their kids kept interrupting. (*shiver*)

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