Monday, May 27, 2013

Truth in Parenthood: a Moment of Proof

Every time I write about parenthood, the idea hovers over me that any mention of success can be read as bragging -- as my asking the world to say, "Wow, Chris, what a great dad you are!" If the truth were told, among mention of these successes, you'd see images of me in bed at night cringing, literally, under the memory of irreversible mistakes too numerous to mention in a blog post. Still, occasionally, a success that results from a committed-to philosophy of being a dad is worth mentioning. This particular success almost brought me to my knees with emotion, yesterday.

My eleven-year-old son had been bugging me to play a game with him for a few days. I had been giving the standard "maybe later" response. Then, it would be bed time, and he would say, "Hey -- we didn't play." I would respond by telling him he had to remind me next time.

The next day, amid many things that needed to get accomplished around the house, he asked me again. I promptly responded by telling him to "give me a break." I was exasperated. I was annoyed. I had -- my reaction implied -- more important things to do. He went into the other room.

A few minutes later, I called him back into the kitchen.

"I'm really not being fair," I told him. "I keep telling you to remind me about the game and every time you do, I get mad. That's not fair. I'm sorry, buddy."

He, as kids are wont to do, held no grudge. He immediately told me it was okay -- he understood I was busy. After a brief hug, he walked out.

A few minutes later, I was making myself a sandwich and he came back in.

"You know what's weird?" he asked. "A lot of grown-ups don't ever apologize to kids, do they?"

"I guess not. Not enough," I said. "We're no better than you guys are. We make mistakes and when we do, we should apologize."

He grabbed my arm and hugged it hard. "I love you," he said, and walked out.

At night, at bed time, he always says "Love you." He says it walking out the door to play. But, he rarely says it because he feels it at the moment. This time, he had felt it.

My eyes filled up, I don't mind telling you.

See, I'm not a fan of pop-parenting. I hate when people use the word "empowerment" and I hate, even more, their superficial ways of accomplishing it. But, in this case, one of my philosophies had come to fruition. I have always had a commitment to myself to be honest with my kids; to be the dad, but not to play the infallible king; to send them the message that, although they have to listen to me, they never have to accept me as perfect.

It seems, in this case, the truth is real empowerment. My son appreciated my respect for him.

It's not enough to tell our kids they are "stars" and that they can "do anything they set their minds to" (a boldfaced lie). We need to raise them with respect. They get it, believe me, and they know when they are being bullshitted.

And they know when they are being treated like valid human beings. And they appreciate it. And they love us for it.

I have said before that I wonder if teenaged rebellion isn't a result years of childhood condescension by parents: "You bullshitted my when I was a kid, now it's your turn."

So, if I have one bit of advice for parents (advice I have seen pay off) it would be: Don't strut and don't pose. Remember, not only are you not better than your kids, but you should hope, with all your heart, that they are much better than you.

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