PARENTAL BLUES

 

Sometimes I am flooded with so many ideas and beliefs about parenting I can hardly wait to put fingertips to keyboard, and other days (like today) I am at a loss for it all.  I don’t feel fit to put another word to Dadlands, and I am pretty confident that I am failing as a parent.  My four-year-old (almost five) does not seem to respect or obey me.

 

I have come to two conclusions:  1) You cannot force someone to respect you.  2)  It is impossible to be a good parent if your children do not respect you.  In short, if not number one you are screwed on number two. That’s a Dadlands Catch 22.

 

It is very frustrating when your children do not comply with your wishes and talk to you as if they were Manny Machado and you’re the umpire.  Reasoning doesn’t work.  Time outs don’t work.  Taking away toys does not work.  There are times when it is just hopeless.

 

DEFIANCE

 

As I reflect on it now that my boys are asleep, and more closely resemble the gifts from God that they are rather than the hellions they personified earlier, I know my boys respect me.  They love me, try to imitate me and vie for my attention.  But there are times the hierarchical system begins to fail, a bolt comes undone or one of the joists becomes loose, and the respect is replaced with a sinister smile and defiant tone.

 

This sends an otherwise compassionate father spiraling towards the ceiling.  Were it not for the roof on the house I would have hitched a ride on a 757 bound for Hawaii.  There are excuses I can come up with; the boys were over-tired (the most frequent of excuses), they did not get enough playtime together, too much TV, they sat in the car too long, Venus is in Jupiter’s fifth moon, SpongeBob was a two-parter, we ran out of their favorite flavor yogurt…

 

But now that they are asleep it was any one of these or perhaps all of them.  When they wake up in the morning, they will be the sweet boys from yesterday not the hobgoblins from tonight.  It was all just an aberration; it was probably the full moon.  Yeah, that’s it the full moon.  I feel better already.  On to another blog.

 

BAGGAGE

 

Well, not every “Guys Day” is one for the memory books and I thought I needed to convey that.  I’m convinced it is not always the fault of the children either.  Every Saturday I bring a lot of baggage to the table: Job-related issues from the previous week, upcoming job-related projects and, most importantly, feedback from my wife during the preceding week.

 

In some ways it is similar to being the fourth grade teacher at the start of the new year pumping the third grade teacher for the stats and box scores on each new student.  (Oh come on we all know they did it.  I’m convinced you establish your reputation in first grade and from then on you are labeled.)  I know going in what to expect from each of my boys so maybe their actions, reactions and attitudes are a self-fulfilling prophecy based on my expectations.

 

But after a day like today, I am disappointed at the way they behaved and under-whelmed at my response.  Every conversation was a confrontation and every action was an altercation.  I did not enjoy the day, I survived it, and just barely at that.  There were no medals given out today unless the purple heart was an option.  We all went from one battle to the next.

 

WHO DOESN’T LIKE THE ZOO? 

 

I had some fun things planned, too.  We headed to the zoo first thing in the morning, it opens early for “members” (Since 1995, it’s like Visa!) because I knew they had not been in a while.

 

“I don’t want to go to the zoo!” was the enthusiastic response I received.  Ahhh, the sweet sense of appreciation. 

 

We arrived, double stroller in tow, to find a beautiful November day, short sleeve weather, only in San Francisco.  The morning goes along relatively well, a cross word here, a time out there, but I promise I’ll be better.  My older son asks for lunch at 10:30am right in front of the polar bears. 

 

The polar bear that is always in a constant state of motion eyes my youngest, thinking he would make a good mid-morning snack, so we head for the more lethargic Kodiak bear.  I break out the graham crackers and water while the Kodiak lounges in his rocky tub.  In a flash my older son is off running on the wet grass heading towards a duck pond.  Five calls to return are averted, so I begin pursuit.  As we get older, one of us is really beginning to pick up speed, unfortunately it is not me.

 

I apprehend the culprit and read him his rights, all the while passersby stare with disapproval. 

 

“Just, obey,” is all I want to say, but that wasn’t good enough for my parents and it won’t do for me.  The lecture concludes with a brief overview of the Fall of Rome, Custer’s Last Stand and the reign of Louis XIV. Then we are on our way.

 

“Daddy, can we have lunch now?”

 

10:39am and all is well.  Sea otters, penguins, more monkeys and then it is off to the petting zoo.  This will be a big hit, I tell myself confidently, it never fails.

 

SHEEP FEAR

 

We arrive and the boys take off in all directions.  If sheep could register an expression of fear this would be the time.  My two-year-old chases sheep like they were going to be his next meal, laughing menacingly all the way. 

 

My four year old’s favorite spot is an old water pump that spills into a trough inside a baby bull’s enclosure.  Unfortunately, today he has pushed aside a little three-year girl, to the astonishment of her mother and some ducks.  I gently inform him that the little girl was not finished and to move away.  Again.  And again.  Finally, “Step away from the trough with your hands in the air,” I remove his hand from the pump and pull him aside.  The little girl looks pleased but then it happens…

 

“I don’t like my daddy!  I don’t like my daddy!”  This is probably the first time in recorded history that a petting zoo was quiet because it was heard by all.  Even two goats and a llama stopped what they were doing to watch.  The most painful part was my son said these hurtful words and then went back about his business splashing with the ducks and petting the mule. 

 

11:55AM AND ALL IS WELL

 

I, on the other hand, was devastated.  I tried to regain my composure and tell myself that he did not really mean it, but the wound was there just the same.  The relationship between words and the pain they can cause are not a reality at the age of four, so any coerced apology would ring hollow.  I gather up my brood and we head for the car.  I am like a beaten man and it is barely noon.

 

The afternoon consists of one confrontation after another.  They want to watch television.  They’re tired.  Their wrestling is too rough.  They take each other’s toys.  The list goes on and on.  My patience is below sea level, so it doesn’t take much to set me off.

 

Finally, my wife gets home from work and we are all relieved to see her.  I try to express to her how bad the day was, but words do not suffice.  Saturdays are my one day to connect with my boys and I have blown it.  The good thing is they will not remember this day tomorrow.  I, on the other hand, live with its memory for quite some time.

REALITY 

 

I’m not sure you’re ready for this yet, but I am going to tell you the hardest thing about being a dad.  It is not waking up at 3am to comfort your child in the middle of the night.  It is not giving your feverish child a tepid bath while he pleads for you to stop, although that is pretty dreadful.  It is not even getting peed on in your new suit as you’re heading out the door for your annual meeting (maybe no one will notice).  It is coming in second in the standings after your wife on the daily popularity poll.  And you know what, it is usually a landslide! 

 

When you think about it rationally (which guys seldom do) that is only fair.  After all, your wife protected them in her womb for nine months, she painfully delivered them into this world, she probably nursed them for the first twelve months of their life while you stood by burping and making goo-goo eyes (next time say excuse me when you burp).  Granted those are both vitally important jobs, but they just do not get the same recognition as childbirth and nursing.

 

MORE BAD NEWS

           

So here’s the bad news.  You can show your children an unbelievable day, we’re talking, truly spectacular.  You can take them to the zoo, the park, the beach, all before breakfast, then to a double header at Camden Yards, off to McDonald’s for lunch, then on to a private tour of Disneyland enjoying all the rides without waiting in line, and back home on the Concorde before dinner.  Well, you get the idea.  You are the king of all you survey, and your sons have not stopped grinning since the moment he got out of bed.

           

Your wife comes home from running errands, and your kids leave you in the dust as they race to give her a hug and tell her how much they missed her.  They barely remember your name once she walks in the door and if you try to pick them up, they scream like you are a an extra from The Walking Dead!

 

THE WALKING DAD

 

Well, that is the bad news.  And there are days it will get to you more than others.  In a certain respect you must admire their taste, I mean, this is the woman you married and if they prefer her, then they just have the same good taste you do.

 

Your wife will try to console you with, “I get the same treatment myself sometimes.”  If you inquire when this happens to her, it always seems to occur when you are at work or in the shower or mowing the lawn (just kidding, I don’t mow the lawn).  Coincidence?  I think not.  This is just a simple ploy on their part to make you feel better.  There is probably an entire chapter devoted to it in one of those pre-baby books for women.

           

“Try on occasion to make your husband feel as if he is the most important person in the child’s life.  This will be of great assistance to you when he begins to become envious of the strong bond you will inevitably build with your child.  It’ll be our little secret.”  Well the gigs up ladies.  We know it is a lie and the kids like you better, so there!  Now, don’t you feel better?