Tuesday, August 30, 2005


In Which I Pretty Much Blow It...

So here's the thing: I joke about what a bad dad I am. But the truth is I kind of AM a bad dad when the chips are down.

Oh sure, it's easy to be a good dad while someone else is making the meals and wiping the butts and listening to the umpteenth tantrum and in general doing all the heavy lifting. But when you have to do a little bit of work and deal with a little bit of whining, the fair-weather dads drop like flies. And I think I might be a fair-weather dad.

This fact hit home most especially this weekend when, quite aside from my self-pitying post of last night, I did plenty more to disgrace myself in the eyes of my children.

I always start weekends like this with the best of intentions. I have this image in my head of being a calm, cool, collected dad who can help finish the puzzle and whip up the batch of cookies and deal with the shoe stuck in the toilet, often simultaneously, but always with unwavering grace and aplomb.

But what really happens is I quickly feel myself getting worn to a tiny nub. And once I enter nubhood I get surly and impatient and become the kind of heavy-handed dad I swore I'd never be (and which most of you probably still can't believe I ever could be).

Now when I say "heavy-handed" I don't mean that literally. I have never hit my kids. My problem is I'm voice-raiser. If the kids don't listen to me or they persist in doing some foolish or annoying thing long after any novelty value for that thing has worn off, then I blow it and become Old Yeller. I shouldn't shout at my kids, I know. But there it is. Sometimes I do. I hit them with my voice. And then feel enormous guilt afterwards.

I hit Shouting Point right around dinner time on Sunday. My wife was sick, it was clear I was going to have to take her to the clinic in the morning. To compound matters, I was going to have to go into work for a few hours. The current issue ships tomorrow and I have five stories to complete. My senior editor would normally pitch in and help out, but by an unfortunate stroke of luck, he blew out his Achilles tendon Saturday afternoon and would be undergoing surgery sometime on Monday or Tuesday, not to return to the office for the rest of the week.

This is all in my mind as I'm trying to get Sunday night dinner ready. To compound things, I have a situation to work out with Thomas. Since he has just started school, Her Lovely Self has been in the habit of seeing him off on the bus in the morning, but picking him up at school in the afternoon. The situation being what it was, there was no way I could get to his school to meet him when school let out, and he no longer needed parental supervision to get on and off the bus at the corner near our house. So I sat him down and told him in my best lets-all-do-our-part voice that I needed him to get himself on the bus in the morning. And ride the bus home in the afternoon and walk himself from the corner to our house.

It wasn't like he'd be alone. All his friends are on the bus and he could walk home with the girls who live across the street from us. What's more, about 15 moms regularly meet the bus in the afternoon and would gladly look out to make sure he got to his door without incident.

But that wasn't the problem, of course. The problem is Thomas is generally an anxious kid. In particular, he gets very upset if there's a change in his routine, especially a routine that makes him feel secure in a new environment, such as his mom picking him up at school during the first few days of class. So it was natural that he would carry on a bit, wanting to know why I couldn't meet him at school. Why did he have to ride the bus home? Why did he have to walk the 125 feet from the corner to our door without his mother to greet him? Why couldn't I do it? He was afraid he'd get on the wrong bus at school. He was afraid he'd forget to get on the bus at all and be stuck all alone in school. Oh, it went on.

And if I were the dad you all thought I was, the patient, kind-hearted dad who usually shows up in this blog, I would have validated his feelings and yet still patiently, kindly, wisely convinced him to ride the bus to and from school like a big boy.

But instead, after a few exhausted attempts to comfort/reason with him, I abruptly lost my patience and adopted a hard line. His mom was sick and couldn't get him. I had to work and couldn't get him. He would have to do what all his other friends do and ride the bus and walk himself home on his own.

When he protested more shrilly, I totally blew my cool and shouted at him to please JUST DO IT AND STOP ACTING LIKE A BIG BABY. For all the shock on his face and the brimming tears in his eyes, I might as well have slapped him across the mouth. We began dinner in silence. I felt just awful. Thomas wouldn't look at me.

Not my finest hour.

So I was truly grateful for the miracle that occurred halfway through dinner, when his first tooth unexpectedly came loose. When I threw myself across the table to snatch it out of his mouth before he accidentally swallowed it, I knew I was grasping at my last chance to salvage the day.

And I was right. In the excitement that followed, everything was forgotten, forgiven. But later, lying in bed, too tired to sleep, I felt that I had gotten off on a technicality. I had really blown it. I needed to make it right.

Next morning, before I could even do that, Thomas bravely informed me that he would be able to take the bus and walk himself home after all. Then, just to put the stake completely through my heart, he said, "I'm sorry I got you so mad last night. I'm sorry I'm a big baby. I'll try to be bigger."

God, my eyes are filling up just writing this.

Feeling like a total shit now, I apologized for yelling and told him I wished I could meet him at school. But I would be home by 4:30 and we could do something fun then.

When I said this, he got a hang-dog yet hopeful look. "Dad, if you can come home then, could you still maybe meet me at 4-2-5? That's when the bus comes."

I didn't realize his bus took nearly an hour to get home. And it was only a five-minute difference from my planned arrival. So I said sure. Then he smiled at me, a big missing-tooth smile that made me feel both better and even more like a shit.

"Really? You promise?" he asked.

"I promise I will be there," I said.

Well, anyone who's read this blog even a little must realize that this was the moment I totally doomed myself to an afternoon of either abject failure or complete wing-nut behavior in a desperate effort to avoid abject failure...

Oh, tell us which it was! I canna stand it. Let these posts come in lightning-quick succession.

Think of it as a way to be a good person.
now I understand why he did teh superman stunt ... :)
Sooooo, did you get home in time?

And sweetie, we all *sometimes* yell at our kids. It's nothing we're proud of, but it doesn't scar them. (Just be sure not to call them names or tell them they're dumb, etc.)

Also, if I found myself eaten up with guilt, I'd go apologize immediately...or before he went to sleep. My son tells me now that it taught him that mom was only human with faults and foilibles like everyone else. It also went a long way to calming him down.

We all make mistakes, but there is nothing wrong with apologizing to a child.

Gosh, MY eyes teared up reading that. MM, we've all been there. You are only human, although your kids probably view you as something a little greater than human and just short of God. I've got my fingers crossed that you made it to the bus, but my eyes are closed in sympathy that you probably didn't. Oh, and no matter what goes on during the day with my two (and I'm a yeller too) I always make sure I tell them I love them when I say goodnight. It helps.
Hey MM, at least you apologized. That's something I never heard MY father do. Mistakes in life are inevitable sometimes, and you did the best job dealing with it that you could. Looking forward to the rest of the story.
I know I am in the minority here but I can think of about a million things worse than being yelled at-from experience. You have great kids and you are a good father. You spend time with your kids, you build special places for little girls to play, you can leap a table with one single bound. Dont be so hard on yourself, no one is perfect.
I know that guilty feeling all too well. It can eat you alive if you let it.

Just know one thing - kids push limits to the very edge of reason and sanity. It's how they learn boundaries of what they can get away with. This will not be the last time you yell. In the coming years you will be poked, pushed, prodded and shoved to the edge of all that is sane and reasonable. You will yell again, that's when Thomas will think to himself "Shoulda held back a little there when I saw that pulsing vein in his forehead!".

Don't beat yourself up for being a stressed out human, hanging on to that guilt serves no purpose. You apologized and let T know that Dad's make mistakes too, not your last, me thinks.
Oh, man MM. I would have cracked about a day earlier than you did. Here's hoping HLS gets back on her feet soon. I know the pressure of deadlines too. In a week, you'll barely remember the pressure as you procrastinate your way towards the next deadline (or maybe that's just me.) ;-) No one can be a perfect parent all the time. It's impossible. Something tells me your kids have it pretty good being stuck with you though, even with the bleeding moles and tendency to impale yourself on stuff and the occasional end-of-your-rope shouting.
"always with unwavering grace and aplomb." Don't we all...

It's ok to screw up, and y'know, it gives us a great chance to teach our kids that it's ok to make mistakes by admitting and apologizing for our own. I think that one of the best things parents can do is to be wrong now and then and go ahead and admit it. When that somethign wrong comes in the course of discipline, it's important to apologize for how it was said, while still being clear that what was said stands. That way, you stay human and fallible and still retain authority, and grow respect on both counts.

Ok, ok, enough of Naiah's parenting soap box.

My heart's breaking wondering whether you'll make it to the bus on time. I hope so, but I have no doubt that it'll be ok if you didn't.

I can just see Artlad's next work "all alone at the bus stop" ;)

If I knew you well enough to hug you, I would.
Oh Puh-leeeeeeeze...

Try being "Old Yeller" to a little girl in a wheelchair. Yep, I *yelled* at Twinks, while she was in The Chair.

People stared at me like I was a monster.

Twinks is *really* sensitive like Thomas - it comes from their intelligence, their creativity, their empathy. It does get better, easier eventually.

'Till the teen hormones kick in...

You feel like a bad father? You're not a bad father until you've yelled at your child to the point at which they throw up.

True story. Ask Flip.

Not one of my better moments.
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