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Is hate too strong a word?

There’s someone I know that I don’t like very much. Although nothing about this statement is extraordinary, being commonplace is little consolation. This guy loses his temper more than I would like, and I cringe every time he yells. I see him show patience at the office and I wonder where it goes when he gets home. There was one time I saw him yell at his daughter, and my heart broke when she shrank back and said, “why are you yelling at me daddy?” Actually, saying my heart broke may be an understatement.

If you know me at all, you may have guessed I’m describing myself.

I know there are worse fathers out there, but it can be so hard sometimes… and this too is little consolation. At different times I find myself being an encyclopedia, teacher, mentor, counselor, mechanic, activities director, coach, mediator, agent, lawyer, maid, nurse, distributor, financier, cheerleader, dietician, and at least a few dozen things I didn’t think to list. I feel like a Jack-of-all-trades and master of none, while parenting demands mastery of all. I have no problem leaving my work behind when I go home, but my kids are my life and they go with me everywhere; with all of my warts and blemishes.

The other night we were working on math homework, and Beth was having trouble with a word problem. I was tired, a little sick, and of all things… she challenged me on my advice! “No dad, you don’t understand… I’m supposed to….” In my mind I know that this is a good thing. She’s thinking critically, independently. She’s trying to work things out in her own mind, and most of the time I’m extremely proud of her for it. Oh, but the other night it nearly drove me crazy. Who was this brash ten year old, questioning the boundless wisdom of her elders? Wasn’t she asking me for help? Doesn’t asking for help imply that you don’t know?

Maybe I’m asking to much of myself; but I don’t want to be a parent who yells… no matter how infrequent it is. I want to be the guy who earns their kid’s mutual respect through patience, understanding and reason. Maybe I am and it’s just too hard to see right now. Maybe it’s just a slow process, like everything else when a child is growing… something that is neither innate, default, nor immediate… something that must be slowly nurtured and developed over time.

Sometimes I want to savor every moment, knowing that my kids won’t be kids forever. Other times I wish I could hit fast-forward to get a peak at how things will turn out.

4 Comments

  1. Today has been a much better day. I wonder if part of my problem lately (in addition to the things already pointed out) is that we haven’t been out much lately. We had our first family outing in months last night. It was my nephew’s birthday party (the sixth family birthday since mid-September).

    It was kinda/sorta against doctor’s orders (my white blood cell count is still low – so parties are supposed to be out), but I think it was good for the soul, if not for the body.

    It is so hard to take it easy on myself, both emotionally and physically, but I’m trying. I’ve always been a quiet person, so I think it requires more effort for me to keep communication lines open… but here too, I’m trying.

    Thank you all so much for your advice and kind words of encouragement. It means a lot to me.

  2. John… This post breaks my heart, too But please forgive yourself.

    I agree with Colleen about trying to keep the lines of communication open. I volunteered at both an adult and child help line for a time, and we focused a great deal of on simply giving people the permission to talk. About anything. It was about always being there to listen, without judgement. If someone was talking about overwhelming sadness, you’d ask if they’re thinking about ending his or her life. By asking the question, you’re giving each person the permission to talk.

    So talk, ask questions. Even the ones you may know the answers to. Give her permission to talk to you, about the things in her life, and some things in your life.

    I know you know all this. Kids are smarter than we think. They understand anger and frustration, for they feel it too. Let her know how much you love her, let her know that you will always have a safe place for her, tell her that you’d willing give up everything you have, everything you own, to help her and protect her. That she matters more to you than anything. Tell her that you think she’s strong and brave and capable.

    And tell her that when you get angry, the anger doesn’t last. It falls off you almost immediately, and is gone, leaving behind a shiny love that never diminishes. That frustration causes anger, and your frustration comes from wanting the best for her.

  3. Yes, hate is too strong a word, but I understand what you are saying completely. That’s gotta be something we all wish for, to be the parent we thought we would be, the parent we wish we were…all I can do is hope his therapy isn’t too expensive when he’s older and swear to do better next time.

  4. In a perfect world we’d all be… perfect.

    I am the most flawed parent I know yet my kids still love me. The one good thing I do is to try to keep the lines of communication open and let them tell me how they feel whenever I make them mad or whatever. It bonds us — they like being able to express themselves knowing I won’t blow up.

    Maybe being imperfect has an upside.

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