I had trouble communicating with my son this morning. He was being difficult with Rachel, yelling at her over her decision to cook his frozen strawberry waffles instead of serving them to him ice cold. Rachel, ever the good mother, was trying to patiently explain that the waffles had to be cooked else they’d be inedible.
Jonathan wasn’t accepting her logic. He kept throwing his hands in the air and jumping about in a circle, like a deranged dancer, shouting “No! No! Afful! Afful!” until I lost my patience and intervened.
“Jonathan!” I boomed. “You go sit on the couch right now!”
He stopped, mid-“Afful!” and looked at me. Then, without a word, he hustled into the den and sat down on the couch. I walked over to him and stood there.
It was an intimidating move, I’ll grant you that. I know my son loves and respects me and on occasion I use that weight to gain a parental advantage. Sue me.
“Jonathan,” I said, my voice stern and cool, “you sit on this couch and don’t move. You’re in timeout for not listening to your momma.”
Then, just for effect, I repeated myself: “Sit here. And DON’T. MOVE.”
He nodded his little blond head and I went into the kitchen to refill my coffee cup. Rachel went into the bedroom to get her running shoes on, and as soon as she passed by and was out of his line of sight, he hops up and begins to climb off the couch.
I see this from the kitchen, coffee in hand. And in reacting, I make a bad decision. I choose to yell at the boy. Not just yell, mind you, but to raise my voice and alter my tone to one that an adult would use with a disobedient dog.
“Jon-a-THAN! I said SIT DOWN.”
I caught him so off guard that he didn’t sit down – he just collapsed in a heap where he was, then shimmied his way back to a sitting position.
Rachel came out of the bedroom and looked at him. He sat there, face downcast, hands folded in his lap. She then walked into the kitchen and looked at me.
“I wish you wouldn’t yell at him,” she said.
“Sometimes that’s the only way to get his attention,” I countered.
“Still, I don’t want him to grow up and be aggressive like that,” she said. “There’s better ways.”
This all happened two hours ago, and it’s still on my mind. There’s better ways. Better ways of disciplining my son. Better ways of communicating with my son. Better ways of teaching my son about what it means to be a man.
And better ways of being a man my son can imitate.
I try not to make any bones about my life as a father, about my relationship with my kids. I try and share with humor and candor and reflection the many challenging things that a father faces on a daily basis. And, more often than not, I try to make myself look somewhat good in the process. Sure, I toss in some self-deprecating humor to keep from painting myself as superman, but I never really throw out the truly ugly things I do, in part because they’re ugly and in part because people don’t respond well to ugliness.
And I tried to do that with this post. Tried to find a way to make it funny. There was an avenue, but in making this funny, I would have made it insincere. Phony. Ugly.
Better to share my father fail than to try and pretty it up. This morning, I made a mistake with my son, and it’s hurting my heart. Thankfully, fatherhood is not one moment fixed in time, but the accumulation of moments throughout a life, so I’ll have ample opportunity even today to make better choices in how to discipline, communicate with, and teach my son.
Perhaps the greatest blessing of all, those opportunities will be afforded me because my son is still young enough to not hold a grudge; he’s still young enough to know only that he loves me because I’m his dad and he’s my son. It’s a portrait of grace, is what it is.
And I’m not going to ruin it. Father’s fail. But failure isn’t permanent.