Being Boastful is Nothing to Brag About

It all comes down to bragging. Pity poor Donald Trump. He won the presidency by clinching the Electoral College. But he just can’t stand that Hillary won the popular vote. In fact, some research points to the fact that, if you add the third-party candidates, Trump won less than 54 percent of our votes.

Who would quibble about that? Trump, of course. He needs to be able to brag about everything.

Even if you’re not a braggart like Trump, chances are you still probably brag. I guess it’s human nature. We all want to feel like we’re the best, when often, we just didn’t feel that great about ourselves. We brag to feel better about ourselves. But bragging can hide a hole in our heart.

Biographers say it all started with Trump’s father, who ran him down a lot. I suspect the bragging was Trump’s way of propping himself up. Experts provide a rationale for that. They say that once we have a negative sense of ourselves, we need to find something that makes us feel good, something that makes us feel able to survive and worthy of surviving. Some call bragging “survival-strategy behavior,” because it feels to us as if we need it to survive.

And can’t you see that a little, in Trump?

Chillingly, experts are saying, to get Trump to do what you want, just simply flatter and schmooze him. Oh God. Here comes Putin now.

But aren’t we all kind of missing what bragging’s about? It’s the little boy who, in Trump’s case, never got the approval and pride of his cold, passionless father, withholding what his son so desperately wanted, making him seek the world’s attention and adulation instead. Brag, and you might get even more.
But,who wouldn’t want to feel better after being degraded much of your young life? To say, yes, I matter. Today you can see the little boy, even under all that bluster. It makes me feel a little bit better (well, just a touch).

Some say bragging is about insecurity. One friend who does nothing but brag about her child (OK, so she’s an exceptional kid!) was starting to get to me a little. Although I adore my son, I had nothing much to counter back with. (Now what does that say about me?)

So my son isn’t in the debate club. He doesn’t run cross country (though he’s running track). I can’t drive around with a football or lacrosse sticker on my car. He’s not in the school play. He’s just a nice, normal kid who gets along with everyone. But how can you brag about that?

(Sorry, Phillip. Though your World History teacher at Open House did say you are smart, with an emphasis on “smart.”)

As someone who used to brag without much to show for it, I now find it a little distasteful — even though, I admit, I can’t help feeling a little inadequate, based on my boy.

But isn’t that not what parenting’s supposed to be? Aren’t our jobs just to help our kids make their way in the world?

But who doesn’t see — or want to — see themselves, or someone even better — in their kid?
What’s the purpose of bragging? I guess, for Donald Trump, it was to make himself feel important, like he really is valued, in the end. But I know when I brag, and I do, less and less, it makes me feel good — for a second. And then I feel embarrassed.

I don’t brag about my son (or, at least, very often). Yes, he doesn’t have the stand-out activities that others’ kids do. But I know who he is, and even though I must admit at times, I feel resentful (and a little angry at him) that he doesn’t, I also know that what matters about him is perfect.

My son plays soccer on a house travel team and though he’s not a star, he’s pretty good on the field. But don’t I want to see him score at least just once? Of course, I do (three times in scrimmages, he did).

He started out as “Multiplication King” in third grade (the first to get all the way up to the 12s) and was valedictorian at his elementary school graduation, scored as a college student in reading when he was only in seventh. We thought we were on to something. But now that we’re out in the high school world, there are so many kids who are just as talented.

And I’m finding it hard to feel as proud as some of the other parents. My kid is very centered and it doesn’t bother him. “Stop comparing me to the other kids.” But I want him to stand out, to be someone special, to have the world consider him as special as I do.

I think it all starts in high school because that’s when you begin to see the trajectory their life may follow. It’s also where we see our dreams — the next Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Ernest Hemingway (hey, I can dream) — may not come to pass. It’s easy to fantasize in elementary and middle school, when the future is still a mystery.

Maybe it’s because I wasn’t much of a star in high school myself. I had very average grades (we won’t talk about the math SAT) and the only club I belonged to was Future Teachers of America. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized how much people liked my writing. Turned out I wasn’t as invisible as I thought.

So what does all this mean? For Donald, it’s OK if you’re really, in the end, not the greatest. And for me, I guess, I need to step back and be grateful for my son as he is. He’s a decent, hard-working, sweet kid and he even had a girlfriend in sixth grade (though that went belly-up in seventh!). He gave a talk at an IEEE conference at Princeton as an eighth-grader and is now developing a video game for teens through an AITE program for ninth-graders he’s been in since eighth grade.

OK, so he probably won’t be the next Bill Gates. But he will be the next Phillip Hirsch and that’s good enough for me.
Writer Deborah DiSesa Hirsch lives in Stamford. Her blog is


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