I thought everything was on track.
I’d picked the kids up early from camp, leaving a good hour and a half before my older one, Tyler, had to be at football practice. I’d taken the coach’s directive — “Make sure they eat and you let them rest in the air conditioning before practice” — seriously. I’d shut off the TV, leaving plenty of time for Tyler to put on his equipment (and there is a lot of it) when you-know-what hit the fan.
“My cleats are too tight. I can’t wear them!” he starting moaning, as he rolled around on the floor.
“Tyler, we talked about this. I offered to buy you new cleats last week and you said the ones you had were fine. You said you wouldn’t complain about them anymore.”
“They’re too tight. They’re too tight! I can’t wear them!” Tyler repeated, as if I hadn’t spoken.
“Well then why didn’t we get you new cleats last week? I asked, getting frustrated.
“I didn’t want to go the store,” he admitted.
“Well, that’s not ok. That’s your fault, and so now I need you to put the cleats on,” I said sternly.
After a few more minutes of fruitless back and forth, I totally lost my temper and the yelling and screaming began. But the cleats weren’t the end of it — there were also some issues putting on the shoulder pads.
“Silliness, all of this,” you say? “Of course, you’re going to have some challenges getting an 8-year old into all that uncomfortable stuff,” you say?
Yes, are right, and I wish you could have been there to help me stay calm and cool as I was trying to reason with an unreasonable kid as we became later and later for practice. But it was just me (with 6-year old Parker watching on in amazement/horror) — a grown man who’d all too quickly lost it.
I was, at that moment (and have been at too many other moments when it comes to the children) a disaster — a man sent out of control by the very children to whom he should be modeling control. And when I do this, when I let this happen, I am failing. Worse, I am failing at that which I’ve always considered just about the most important thing — controlling my emotions.
As many of you know, I’m pretty intense consumer of history, especially biographies of military and political leaders. I’m also an admirer of the Stoic philosophy which, among other things, preaches the importance of self-control in the face of extreme challenges. If I were to pick one biography that focused on an individual’s self-control and how it was a major factor in his success, it would be Ron Chernow’s, “Washington, A Life.” Throughout the book, we are told that Washington’s greatest strength was mastery of his emotions in almost all circumstances. If he didn’t want to betray anger or disappointment or frustration, he wouldn’t. He had trained himself so well, there were few, “Damn, I wish I’d played that differently” moments. He played it as intended.
Unfortunately for me, there have been too many cringe-worthy outbursts, and that’s a problem. I think I’ve mastered myself when it comes to my professional life, and I’d guess Nancy and Kate would say I’m a pretty composed customer most of the time. But the kids, the kids, oh how they can get to you. Oh, how if you are prepared to be taken to a 10 on the frustration scale without blowing your top, they seem to know it and promptly crank things up to an 11.
Of course, the rub is that if I lose my cool with an adult, they will likely shake it off, call me something under their breath and move on. But with the kids, who knows how long unpleasant memories of dad going nuts will remain in those little brains? And that’s pretty disturbing when all I want is for them to think of dad as someone who always had the situation in hand.
So, as I have done every single day since the first one was born in June 2009, I’m going to redouble my commitment to do better, to try harder and to be a better father. Because, when it comes down to it, it’s really the only measure of a life that matters.