It’s bad enough to make mistakes when I’m alone. It’s even worse when my stupid actions affect other people. But as a Dad, I hate it when I screw up. I hate myself when I hurt my kids and make them cry. I mean, I really hate myself when I hurt my kids.
Let me back up a bit…
My Darling 5yo Daughter started her first swimming lessons this week and it has been pretty exciting week for the whole family. She has been doing amazingly well. Her little brother, my Seminally Smiling 2yo Son has been watching his big sister with great eagerness. It has been really hard for him to not be in the water. So yesterday I told him I’d take him swimming today – and it is all we’ve talked about all day.
During my daughter’s swim class, my son and I played in the pool. We had a great time. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him happier! The water was warm, he had absolutely no fear of the water, and we laughed, giggled, and played. It was awesome! It is times like this that make being a Dad the most incredible job on the planet.
Since we were in two cars, two of us went home and two of us stopped by the store to get some groceries. Mommy and her son went home to get dinner started, while Daddy and his daughter stopped by the store to get some groceries. While at the store, and in the car to and from, my daughter and I talked, laughed, and just had a great time. It was a great time and a nice follow-up to the time I spent with my son in the pool.
And that’s when things begin to fall apart…
Just before getting home I took a call from my aunt who just found out she has lymphoma. It was one of those calls that took all my attention. As I parked in the driveway, turned off the engine, and sat in the driver’s seat finishing the call. Distracted as I was by the phone call, my Smiling Son came bouncing out into the driveway, most likely to continue the great experience we had at the pool. Yet, I ignored him. And that led to lots of tears.
Of course, simultaneously, my Darling Daughter was trying valiantly to survive the gauntlet of Dixi the Dancing Dog’s enthusiasm. 2D‘s 30 pounds were no match for 3D‘s enthusiastic 40 pounds. More tears began echoing in our tiny forest. Now, both kids were melting down in earnest.
This is where it becomes about me. I wasn’t prepared for the noise and confusion. I too was tired, and despite the great day, I was spent. I don’t know how I expected the day to end, but my fantasy evening certainly didn’t include two crying children and family chaos. I’m pretty sure The Wife wasn’t hoping for this kind of an end to the day either. Either way, I found myself retreating into a cocoon of sullen silence. It’s a place I know oh-too-well.
Looking back on the evening, it really wasn’t that bad, we were just all tired. As the parent, I’m supposed to understand that and roll with the punches – literally. When I told my kids that it was late, we weren’t going to read anymore stories, and it was time for bed, the tears again began to flow. But this time, Smiling Son became Stormy Son and began to hit me as I carried him to his room. I told him to stop, but as anyone who has ever dealt with an angry 2yo knows, words have little meaning during a meltdown.
I lay my son on his bed and let him cry, but knowing he wasn’t in his right mind, I didn’t put him in a full-blown time out. I lay down next to him, tried to ignore him, and let him work through his emotions. Unfortunately, it seems as if kids see this as a weakness and they begin to prey on our tenderheartedness. It’s as if they have an innate ability to manipulate our hearts.
Stormy Son ripped the leg off of one of his toy tables (not really all that difficult), and began to beat the table with the leg. It was actually quite impressive. He showed tremendous intensity, great prowess, and pretty good coordination – not to mention, he was very focused. Again I told him to stop, at least once, probably twice. He looked me in the eye and began to beat on the table again.
A thin line…
As the enforcer of the family, I am often called upon to give a stern look, lower my voice an octave or two, and sometimes raise the volume a bit. I’d like to think I handle these tasks with great finesse. In fact, I probably strike the right cord at least 99% of the time. In just about anything we tackle, 99% would be considered stellar, if not outright amazing. But tonight I was a little off my game. Tonight was the night I failed.
As I lowered the pitch of my voice, raised the decibels a bit, and leaned in to give a little body-language emphasis, I went beyond playing the role of enforcer and I lost my own temper. The empathetic face of a child lets one know at exactly the point they cross line. Their whiny, angry, tumultuous temper tantrum immediately turns to fear. And that’s when the real tears start.
Unfortunately, as a parent, or in any relationship for that matter, once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it can’t be put back in. The damage is done. In that split second of misjudgment and over-reaction, I went from being the fun, safe, loving, Daddy, to being a monster to be feared. Not only were my son’s feelings hurt, not only was he scared and confused, but there’s nothing I could do at that moment to take it back. He didn’t want me, he only wanted his Mommy.
Of course I knew what I’d done, but I hadn’t really figured it out yet. I sat down on the floor and watched him cry. His big sister stroking his forehead. Knowing when I’ve been defeated, I kissed my daughter goodnight, offered a kiss to my son, which was refused, and I went to bed. Not to sleep mind you, but to escape.
I read the news, played a game of Suduko, browsed apps for my mobile, rearranged icons on my home screen. And then, around midnight, it hit me. I realized what happened.
I was going to get up and write about school bullying. I was also thinking about writing a followup post to my last post on Universal Healthcare. But just before I rolled out of bed, my wife sleeping soundly next to me, I realized what had happened tonight. I lay there in bed and wept. I wept for my son and the unnecessary pain in his heart. I wept for my failure as a Dad and Husband and a person.
My son didn’t deserve to be yelled at, and to be clear, we don’t yell at our kids. He was tired, he had a fun and exciting day, he was just done. That isn’t to excuse his poor behavior. What he was doing was naughty and unacceptable, but as a parent, it is my job to absorb those meltdowns and channel them into a more productive and healthy release.
- It’s OK to be angry. It’s OK to have hurt feelings. It is certainly OK to be tired.
- It’s not OK to hit one’s Dad. It’s not OK to be destructive to people, objects, or oneself.
- It’s also reasonable to believe that those closest to you will understand, absorb, and help us process.
None of us functioned well tonight. These past several months are breaking us – financially, spiritually, emotionally, and socially. In fact, since learning we’d be moving, about six-weeks before my son was born (bad timing, in case you were wondering), until now, it’s been a very difficult two and a half years. We are all ready to resume the American Dream of normalcy.
Tonight I failed my Son, his mother, and his sister. Some days are pretty good, but some days aren’t. Tonight is one of those nights I wish I could do over. I want a do-over.
A Private Note to My Son:
There’s a very real possibility that you may not read this until after I’m gone. Given my “advanced” age as a Dad, I’ll be in my 70s by the time you get out of college. By then, neither of us will remember this night. Although I hope you forget, I hope I never do.
Tonight I made a mistake. I went beyond mere discipline and crossed the line into anger and frustration. I raised my voice too loudly, and put too much emphasis into my facial expression and body language. I knew it instantly when you recoiled in fear, and then cried the tears of broken innocence. I am sorry. I am very sorry.
You see, I take my job as a Dad very seriously. I feel honored that I’ve been blessed by your presence in my life. I sincerely want to protect you from harm, foster your maturity, and nurture your strengths. These past two and a half years have been amazing because of you. That’s why it breaks my heart to know that I wounded your soul.
I have really been working hard to find, and keep, the serenity in my soul. I don’t want to pass on to you the anger and frustration of a generational curses. Instead, it is my desire to share peace, abundance, and contentment. That is what I would like to be remembered for.
I love you my Smiling Son!