15 NovDad Fails; or, Two for Two
I’ve always been proud of the fact that I have eight children. I think it gives me the same pride as owning a yacht, or a 20,000 square-foot home, or a Ferrari, or the New York Yankees, except more so. The pride isn’t necessarily the number of kids, but my relationship with them. With my wife I taught each of them to use the toilet instead of a diaper, how to walk, and how to read. Each one grew a particular passion as he or she grew up. Some of these were: chess, computer games, juggling, taekwondo, origami, and operating a YouTube channel. I had the pleasure of walking down paths of each of these passions enjoying the development and company of each child as I did so. The wonderful times we had and are still having are priceless. As successful as I feel I have been with my children there is always room for humility. I am not talking about humility that I seek, but humility that is thrust unexpectedly upon me.
Just a few weeks ago I had a hard day in the Dad Department. Four of my children are adults They look like they are all on a trajectory that will include productivity and joy. There are still four children at home. Three of them are teenagers. Because I’ve already raised four, you’d think I’d be getting better at raising kids. Strangely, this doesn’t seem to be the case. I’ve felt that I was never so busy with the first four as I am with these last four. I swear the house was never so noisy with eight kids as it is with these four. I don’t like to admit it (blush here), but there has been a time or two recently where I have felt overwhelmed with family issues.
The day I’m referring to started off quite normal. I felt good. The wife was content. There was horseplay and laughter in the house. I did have some school concerns with one of my sons. He’s fifteen and has grown to be quite a handsome fellow. He has proven reliable and responsible. I love spending time with him. However, I had a couple of concerns that dealt with his on-line schooling. He wasn’t utilizing his resources well enough and I decided to have a chat with him. I wasn’t angry and felt very reasonable as I talked with him. Somehow the discussion ended with him in tears and me very flustered. I wasn’t sure where the discussion had gone wrong.
While I was still confused about my part in making my son cry my seventeen-year-old daughter came out of her room where she had been studying for her GED. She brought up mathematics, something I have never been good at, and particularly mentioned fractions. I had recently come to understand a few things about fractions and I enthusiastically offered my knowledge. I do not understand how it happened, but before our conversation was over she, too, was in tears.
I stepped into the living room, one of the few unoccupied rooms in the house at that moment, and stood there confused. I was a good dad. I had great relationships with my children. I had seen movies of fathers with bad tempers or who ran over their family members with insensitivity; I was not that dad. Yet, I had come in contact with two of my children that morning and both left in tears. Just then my wife walked by me and said, “Two for two. Pretty good.” She seemed to be enjoying my fail. My confidence as a father—as a human being—was being challenged. A bull in a china shop doesn’t have to go nuts to break things. His regular movements are going to knock things off the shelves. That’s what I felt like right then. All I had to do was walk through the house to bring my children to tears.
I sat down in a chair to gather my thoughts and review my words and actions. My daughter came to me and tearfully explained what had just happened from her point of view. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated her desire to communicate and make things right. Somewhere that day my son and I made up, too. It wasn’t as dramatic an encounter as with my daughter—more of a nod at each other type of thing—but we are on good terms again. I’m still not totally clear on what happened, but I know I approach these teenagers with a little more care and self-awareness now.
You think that being a good dad is about learning to understand your children. That may be, but perhaps the most difficult part is what you have to learn about yourself. I’ve learned that I’m lucky to have kids who love me and are willing to forgive me. I’ve also learned that I still have a lot to learn. Being a dad is one great adventure.