Tuesday, August 29, 2006

And then there are the days....

And then there are the days you are painfully aware of just how shitty a parent you’ve been. Days when every right thing you’ve ever done appears meaningless and voided in the glare of your failure. Your failure of patience. Your failure to sympathize. Your utter lack of empathy. Your failure to stand firm. Your failure to be a good role model. Your failure to hold it together as you fail to correct instead of chastise. Your failure to be the adult. Your failure to treat your child like the gift he is. And again your failure to correct instead of chastise. And when the days run consecutively, your failure to not fail again. And you hate yourself for it. And then you hate yourself for hating yourself. And after you’ve made it right and he finally falls asleep in your crook while saying, “I love you, Daddy,” you hate yourself.

And when you retire to the porch with your drink and your cigar and your exhaustion hanging on you like an appendage, you hate yourself more. Until your self-loathing is the only thing that makes you feel better.

And you listen to the soft rain falling on all sides of you; and you wish it could reduce you to one of the distant rivulets you see washing to the gutter at the end of your street.

And all of this because you love your Boy more than anything there ever was.

And so you finish your drink and your cigar. You go inside. Turn out the lights. You lie down next to him. Put your left hand on his left shoulder blade. You measure time by the sound of his breathing. The faint beat of his heart against your palm.

The rain taps forgiveness at your window. Self-loathing rinses away. Reveals the promise of tomorrow. And a second chance.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Arbitrary Paths

One day several months ago, Emerson looked me over pretty good and said, “Daddy? You know everything. Right?” “That’s right son,” I answered. “God comes to me for advice.”

With the exception of this Daddy knows stuff misstep, Em is fairly sharp. He smiled and shook his head. He was on to me. “I know a lot of stuff…but I don’t know everything.” I told him this and also that it wouldn’t be any fun knowing everything because then there’d be nothing new to learn. I find the dynamics of these off-the-cuff lessons interesting on a few levels. While making sure I do not fall into the trap of taking myself too seriously, I have to be acutely aware that my words and actions are directly shaping who this boy will become. You would think this awareness or knowledge or potentially crippling responsibility—whatever you choose to call it—would lead toward some sort of blueprint or game plan of sorts. It has not.

I suppose there are hundreds of lessons for a father to impart. Most Of which I have not even considered. In general, I think the wisest thing is to try to lead by example. At the most basic level I guess my message is “Don’t be an asshole.” Also I think one should employ common courtesy as often as possible. Now don’t get me wrong—I can certainly be an asshole. But I’m usually a courteous one.

On this subject of “lessons” (for lack of a better word), I am uncomfortable. Primarily, I think, because I am often so scattered and moody that I rarely take a consistent path to resolve a situation. Unless I am truly frustrated (which is often) or truly angry (which is rare), I am pathetically inconsistent in how I elect to face conflict. My inner Sybil hasn’t caused me any real grief to this point. I usually make reasonable choices—they just are not based on a concrete predetermined philosophy. A positive end result is ultimately what I should be interested in showing my son. I guess. Perhaps how I arrived at something is not as important as I would think. I’ve created this vision of how confusing, if not stunting, it must be to a four-year-old child to witness this nonlinear path. In all likelihood, I am overreacting. I do that from time to time.

A recent example of this self-created non-issue has been playing on a loop inside my crowded head for weeks now. I went to pick up the Boy from daycare. There were a lot of kids still on hand. Em was at a free-standing table with four of five other kids, playing with blocks, Leggos, or somesuch. I observed from several feet away. Across from Em was an older, dull lump of a boy I’d never seen. He was maybe a head taller than Em. While I watched, the bigger boy reached across and snatched a block from Em’s hand and began absently playing with it—further establishing his clear dominance of the moment. It was reminiscent of a miniature prison cafeteria scene whereupon the meanest inmate snatches another con’s cornbread. The other kids kept playing and didn’t appear to notice or care. Just another day in the “yard.” I instinctively cringed but didn’t move. To his credit, Emerson immediately walked around the table and up to the boy and said, “Hey! I was playin’ with that.” The kid didn’t look up but replied, “Nah. It’s mine. I was playin’ with it.”

Emerson inherently knows right from wrong. And he has always been visibly baffled by meanness. Whether he is on the receiving end or a mere spectator, his inability to comprehend or process it is obvious. It is one of the things I love about him most. But standing his ground he said, “No, I was playin’ with it. Now give it back.” The boy, expressionless, replied simply “No” and kept playing. After one more fruitless attempt, Em retreated to a near corner. His face gave a bit as he sank to his knees and started crying softly.

I stepped in and gently prodded him from the corner. We stepped several feet away. I knelt and spoke to my son.

It is here that I either imparted a good, early life lesson to the Boy or did him a disservice. See, the fact of the matter is that it was the end of the day. We were minutes away from going home. In the big scheme of things this was a monumentally minor occurrence. Kids will be kids; and in general I say, “don’t sweat the small stuff.” By most any standard, this was small stuff. Conventional wisdom under the circumstances is Fuck it. Let the kid have the block—we’re out of here anyway. But on this day and in this moment I decided that would be the worst thing I could do to Emerson. In a hushed tone I calmed him down. Peripherally, I noticed the little convict stealing glances at us. I was extremely careful not to project my presence whatsoever. I know full well how intimidating the presence of an adult can be to a child. It is not my place to correct another’s child. And it is absolutely not my place to make a child (regardless of how unpleasant he is) feel uncomfortable in any environment.

So a decision was reached and I explained it to Em. “Son,” I said. “You were playing with that block. That boy had no right to take it away from you without asking you. You need to go over there and get that block back.” He looked at me, his eyes mostly dry. “Daddy,” he asked in a small, sad voice. “Can you just come with me?” And so my heart ached more than a little as I said, “I’m sorry, Baby, but no. You have to do this yourself.” The Boy regained his composure and courage, approached the block snatcher, and politely succeeded in getting the block back. The other kids looked up as Em reclaimed his spot at the table—with his block. I went to Em’s locker and pretended to busy myself with whatever I found. I let a few minutes tick by before I told him it was time to go.

In the hallway we walked a few steps and stopped. I knelt again and put my hands on his shoulders. “Emerson,” I said. “I know that was hard to do. But I am very proud of you and the way you handled the situation.” He smiled a small heartfelt smile and looked me in the eye. “Thanks Daddy,” he said. Then we held hands and walked out of the building.

I am confident I made the right decision to escalate instead of accept. My problem lies in the arbitrariness of the decision. If my mood had been different, I would have gathered Emerson and his stuff and we would have left well enough alone. And it would not have been a terrible thing, I’m sure. But would I then be justifying that decision as the “right” one? I know I just dream up shit to worry about. Always have. I recognize these things are largely situational; and one makes decisions based on the immediate vibe and environment. But is that consistent enough when you’re trying to raise a child to do what’s right, to expect what’s right, and to have respect for what’s right? I don’t know. When is enough ever enough, eh?

In the meantime we’ll just do the best we can. Can’t really ask more than that.

We’ll try to not be assholes. We’ll try to be courteous. We’ll try to not sweat the small stuff.

We’ll try to make reasonable choices, even when taking arbitrary paths. As long as we get where we’re going, you know?

Monday, August 14, 2006

That Melting Smile Posted by Picasa
My Boy Em in August Posted by Picasa
August Em2 Posted by Picasa
August Em Posted by Picasa