There comes a time when being carefree and jovial is more of a liability than an asset. Parenthood is no exception. I admit that I am much harder on my son than I am on my daughter. I love them both but my tolerance levels are on par with their acceptance of me.
It’s important to convey how important my children are to me. In a world that is full of disappointment, my children are a reflection of my best efforts to make the world a better place. My love for them both cannot be quantified. However our love for each other is evident.
The circumstances by which each of my children were brought in to this world were distinctly different, and like most families may contribute to why my daughter is treated differently than my son. Five years apart, the age different between them is the same as that of their parents. I married their mom when I was 24. She was 19. Neither of us were mature enough to recognize the gravity of our decisions. But with the birth of our daughter, we found a renewed hope and a desire to live right.
We had a home with a lot of potential. I had a promising career and good credit. We were rooted in the church and innocent enough to believe that as long as we did more good than harm by the end of each day, we were managing the world around us.
My wife nurtured our daughter and most times enjoyed watching me dote over her. We shared our parenting responsibilities and I was so proud to be living “the dream”.
Honeymoon periods end, marital bliss fades, and the typical family disputes arise. Only true love prevails, so the first separation brought with it a reality check. My son was conceived on the other’s side of a reconciliation. But the damaged relationship hadn’t healed.
Insecurity, disappointment, and mistrust welcomed my son into the world. Sadly, by the time he was three years old, his parents were divorced. He can not remember a time when his mom and dad got along. But his older sister had plenty of memories of family trips and dozens of holiday photos of mommy and daddy embracing her cuteness.
This dynamic plays out as we endure the teen years. Dylan doesn’t even flinch at the thought of an unpleasant interaction between his parents. He’s never known a happier time. Conversely, when his older sister Emily witnesses a civil conversation between “mommy and daddy” it comes with surprise. It’s been so long. It’s almost cause for alarm!
“They are smiling? And they are talking about me and my plans to travel and work and camp and dRiVE?!?” The thoughts that must go through her head.
If there was ever something that my ex-wife and I are most passionate about, it’s our kids! Sometimes support and custody, consent and childcare are ideals that are convoluted by control and resentment. But we are not without our differences in opinions.
Court involvement exacerbates problems but we are still learning to co-parent. I figure by the time my son gets to high school, we will have a mastery of it (I hope).
My daughter, however, has begun to test our limits and may infact hope to capitalize on our handicaps. I’m grateful that the preteen years were painless. We even enjoyed three more uneventful teen years. But it’s happening. The anticipated freedom that comes with a driver’s license out weighs the worry of teen suitors.
A few years ago, in leui of a well deserved consequence, I choose instead to lecture my son. Emmy intervened. She said, “don’t you think he’s had enough?” Brakes! Caught completely off guard, I warned that unless she was preparing to take one for the team… The conversation ended abruptly.
On a prememptive strike I pulled my son aside and recalled the incident. He remembered vividly. He was wise enough to see the mounting tension. He’d watched as his mother and father conferred over parent stuff. He even commented, “Dad, that’s the longest I’ve ever seen you and mom talk…”
But I wasn’t upset by mom. I was upset at the general willingness to ignore Dad–that plans were made without my consultation. And although I recognize that the path to adulthood is paved with independence and the neglectful willingness to rebel against parents, not here. Not now!
As a father, I don’t apologize for speaking up. I certainly don’t regret putting my foot down. My demeanor is usually pleasant, but once I’ve become vocal, I cannot be stifled. The thought of it inflames me.
This time, my anger was heavy. It was direct. It was poinyant. It was also misdirected. I love my daughter, and would never deliberately hurt her. But I will not allow poor decisions to manifest into a disregard for common sense.
“What’s the big deal, Dad?” Or I believe that the comment she made was that she’d much prefer to go to camp this summer than to go to work…and that earning money for a car wasn’t that important. Yesterday’s discussion turned into today’s request. This evening, Mom suggested that Dad contribute to the driver’s ed “behind-the-wheel” course. But now driving has suddenly become a desire? Yet no effort went into earning her own money?!? Because she’d prefer…?
Dad’s can I get a hand here?
Every father hopes to see his kid off in a safe reliable car (hopefully one that he’s fortunate enough to provide). I was blessed with that great fortune. My dad gave me his old truck when I was fifteen. I had two years to prepare. It was a hardship that I truly appreciated. But he also made it possible for me to mow lawns for cash when I was fourteen. My ability to get my license was contingent on my hard work. It was more than understood. I was reminded frequently!!
Because my dad was better off in his career when I came of age, he was able to do for me in ways he’d regretted not being able to do for my siblings. I was the youngest.
My daughter is my eldest. I’ve convinced myself that with planning, devoted parenting, and a lot of help from the Lord, I’ll be able to do for my daughter (and son) what was offered to me.
But I need a little help from the kids. Not financial. Not physical. But emotional. Appreciation! Enthusiasm. Effort. When Dad is taken for granted though, all bets are off.
I model intelligent decision-making. I share. I work hard, and I rarely ask for help. I’m not just a father. I’m a man. I have dignity. I have pride. I’m kind, but I’m stern. And dammit I expect respect.
Somewhere along the way, my kindness was mistaken for weakness. When I’ve had enough, the beast is awakened. I roar! And my point becomes crystal clear. My own upbringing may be to blame. I’m ultra tolerant and watchful for results. I learn from my mistakes, but I’d prefer to learn from someone else’s mistakes instead.
I’m not a good dad. I’m the best dad (that I can be)–but only because I do what I’m supposed to do. The fact that not every dad is able or willing does not make me good. They have to bare their own cross.
Everyday brings with it a new opportunity. I have high expectations of my kids. They have no excuse for failure except for their own unwillingness to try. Mediocrity seems to be accepted collectively. But individually, we must work hard to achieve. I once argued with their mom that academic achievement is not a way (of life); it’s a standard.
I mean what I say. I’m not just picking fights. Every experience we’ve had brought us to this very moment. I won’t waste it!
Clichés anyone? Every moment brings with it an opportunity…
I speak up. I asked my son recently to come from his room and help out in the kitchen. He mustered some attitude. At eleven years old he is primed and ready for conflict. Every request triggers a response.
My son kicked over the cat food which caused all the “fur babies” in the house to react. He then complained that there was a reaction to his action… The dog growled, the cats ran, and the turtle withdrew in his tank.
I had to seize the moment!
I’m certain the neighbors heard me stammer as I begin to bellow–loud enough for everyone in my home to hear.
I proclaimed, “disappointed? Good! Mad? Fine! But get used to it! Because you’re only months away from manhood! Biblically you should be preparing for the rights and responsibilities of a man! And you know what?!? No one is going to care that your feelings are hurt! No one is going to ask if you are ok. No one cares enough to help you out because you’d ‘prefer’ to play and not work!!!”
I saw this glisten in his eye, and I knew I’d gone too far. My sheer volume rumbled the room. My voice carried. I knew my daughter could hear and she knew that this declaration was really for her ears. I killed two birds with one stone…and I felt…awful.
My son lipped, “I’m sorry,” while my daughter never peeked from behind her bedroom door.
Gee, Daddy was pissed! Now a tear runs down my face. I’ve got nothing left (until tomorrow).