Saturday, October 10, 2020

My Failings As A Father and as a Person


Alexander the Great I'm not.
It's my birthday tomorrow, which always brings me a certain level of depression and frustration.  It's right around this time each year that I start to think about all the things I haven't accomplished, all the things I haven't done, all the things I wanted to do this year, and somehow managed to avoid.  

When I was in my 30's, my joke used to be "When Alexander the Great was my age, he'd been dead for five years.  He had conquered all of the known world.  I've finished making payments on my five-year-old car."  

Yeah, I know.  I have it good compared to a lot of people.  I'm still alive and without COVID (knock wood)  My wife still has her income, and I'm fortunate to continue to be a house-husband, stay at home dad,  and (sort of) pursue my goals as an artist. And I've accomplished a lot this year.  (Including shedding 70+ lbs, working out every day for a year+, and keeping it off during the pandemic!)  I've also taken three major workshops, attended a couple of conferences, joined a mastermind of sorts, live-streamed every day for a month, wrote every day in my blog for a different month, started playing D and D again, and produced almost 40 sonnet videos (although I've stalled the last few months) on my Daily Sonnet video project. 

So I've done some things this year, but not enough, not enough.  I'm feeling disappointed in myself that I didn't jump on the virtual show bandwagon, that I didn't miraculously monetize my sonnets, that the idea that I have for an online course now seems stalled.

Dark skies ahead.

But  I wasn't thinking about any of these things when I lost my cool with my son tonight, in a way that did not reflect my best self, my best intentions, or show myself as a good parent.  Instead I got pretty angry and frustrated.

My son has been having focus issues at school, particularly with math.  He is complaining all the time about school.  We have had to cut down his computer game time, and assiduously watch it, because he's lied about checking out game sites during the day, about doing his homework, and he's just putting in the absolute minimum effort to do his work.  He doesn't want to do what the teacher expects, which is to write down the problem and show his work.  He's downright belligerent about it.  And sadly, I can be belligerent too.

After online school today, my son came to my office to ask if he could download a video game and play with his friends FIRST before he did his homework.  Typically he has to do his homework first.  But all of his friends were playing now, and I want him to have fun. He said that my wife had left it up to me.   I said, okay, but afterward, you need to finish your homework and take a shower.  He agreed, and even pinky swore.  

That was at 2:30 pm.  I had a bunch of stuff to do, and was in my office working at 4:30pm when my wife called me to say that she was leaving to have a socially distanced dinner date with a girlfriend, and did the boy do his homework?  I went upstairs to check on him, and he (naturally) was still playing video games.  It turns out children are not self-regulating, and they need to be reminded to do the things they said they were going to do. I asked him to get off and start on his homework.  

He grumbled but said yes.  About 8 minutes later, he was off, and when I checked in on him 10 minutes later, and he hadn't done a single Khan problem.  He's just looking at the problems, and he seems a little dejected.

There's nothing on his notepad.  He hasn't tried it at all..  I ask him if he needs help.  He says yes. 

 I pull up a chair and say "Okay, what's the first problem?"  

He pulls it up on the computer.
I say  "Okay, what''s the first step? " 

He says  "I don't know.  This is stupid. I don't understand it all."

"What don't you understand?"


"Like what?"


I can't stand this kind of answer.  If you are having problems with understanding stuff, that's cool.  Math isn't easy, algebra isn't easy, you have to practice.  But when you haven't tried-- when you've put in zero effort, and then you ask me for my help, it is frustrating.   And then you start just making excuses, saying you don't understand everything, well, shut up.  It's not that you don't understand it.  It's just that you are refusing to try.

I try to show forbearance:  

 "The first step is: Write the problem down."
He says "I don't want to... I can't.  My fingers hurt.  I don't know where the sign goes, I can't multiply by a decimal. I don't know how to add or subtract."  And a dozen other excuses.  I chide and chide him. He finally writes it down.  He writes it extra big so that the problem takes up the whole piece of paper.

I say, "Okay, let me show you again how to do it."  I take the pad, and put it down, on the mousepad, moving the mouse slightly.

"AYYYYYYYYYYY!" he yells.  "Don't move the mouse!" 

"Why is it broken?"

"No, I just don't want it moved."  There's not enough space on the desk to make notes.

We go through this four times.  At this point, he wants me to just solve his problems for him, and he's pretending that he doesn't know how to add or subtract numbers.  Every time I try to show him, he is not paying attention, or he yells about me moving the mouse slightly.

He's telling me that he's stupid, that's why he doesn't get it, that he has a little brain, that he's not good at anything, he's not good at Minecraft.  I'm reassuring him that he's not stupid, I've seen him do this work before, he can do it.   But I'm not cheerleading him, it's not buoying him up.  He wants to get out of doing his homework and I don't want to be tricked or taken advantage of.  He's looking for sympathy, but I don't have a lot for him. We have been down this road many times before.

At this point, I know I need to show compassion, but I don't have any to give.  He hasn't met me a quarter of the way.

His obstinance and deliberate obtuseness is getting to me.    I say "Don't be lazy."  Then I regret telling him that.  I say, "I don't mean that you are lazy.  I mean that you are not doing the work you need to do, and now you are just being obstinate, hoping that the problem will go away. But it won't." 

Still no movement from him.  He's dug in.  I explain to him the options.   I tell him that I will take away his computer for the rest of the weekend.  I tell him he will have to sit at his desk until he finishes his homework.  He has three more problem sets to do.  It's 16 questions.  It will take him 15 minutes if he works at it, or it will take him three hours if he doesn't.  There's nothing else he can do. 

 Despite my best intentions, despite my desires, I've turned this into a power struggle, one I'm destined to lose.  

I'm trying to be patient with him.  I try to show him the problem again, he yells at me again about moving the mouse, I pick up the pad, and it brushes his face and "Ow!  You hit my nose!"  He won't let me work on the desk, so I bring him to  the kitchen table, and he puts his foot under mine and now "OWWWWW!  My foot hurts!  You stepped on my foot!"

I dealt with that, and brought him back to the desk.  I'm trying to persevere, I'm trying to show him how to write down the problem, and he yells about the mouse again.  In a fit of frustration, I clear all the stuff on the desk onto the floor with one sweep of my hand.  Everything clatters to the floor. I meant it to be "okay, let's clear the desk so that there's room to work within your ridiculous phobia about moving the mouse."  And yes, it was an overly dramatic gesture.

But that's not how it read to him.  (Of course.)   It came off as "I cleared this desk, and if you keep on making me angry, I'm going to clear you."  He gets frightened and runs into my bedroom.  I'm fuming at him for his obstinance and at myself for the way I've handled this.  Why can't I have more patience with him?  Why can't he just do the work, and save us this endless runaround?  Why do I care so much that he tries at his homework?  And why did I let him get to me?

He's barricaded himself in my bedroom, he's called my wife, she texts me to say, leave him alone, don't worry about the homework.  I text her to say I'm considering joining the French Foreign Legion.  Because I just want out.

I'm pissed.  I'm fuming.  He's played us again, he got to play video games, he didn't take a shower, he didn't do his homework, and I feel like a failure as a father.   I don't want any part of him, I don't want to hug him, or comfort him or find out what the problem is with his math.  My goodwill towards him is at zero, and I'm upset with myself that it bothers me so much.

I make my own dinner.  I toy with not making him dinner at all, and letting him fend for himself, but decide I can try to be the peacemaker.  He yells at me "Where's my food."  I give it to him, and we sit in silence, not looking at each other, not talking to each other.  I hate it, but I am not going to let him get the better of me.  I have to review an online show, so he goes back to my bedroom and watches The Good Place.  I don't say a word to him.


Self portrait as a frustrated dad.

My wife finally got home, and she soothed him a little bit, as she is capable of.  They watched TV in the bedroom.  I didn't want to go in there.  I watched my show and wrote this blog post, read the news, watched my own show, avoiding our bedroom, avoiding them.  He fell asleep in our bed, and I considered just not going to sleep, or sleeping on the couch.  But I went in and pulled him out of the bed and brought him into his own.  But I'm not tired and I don't want to sleep, and I feel like I need to share this post, even though it's not a good look for me.

I wish I had a better, happier ending to this story.  I wish I knew how to let it go, to let it roll off my skin like water off a duck's back.   But I don't.  Right now I don't even know how I'm going to let this go, and I know I need to, but I don't want to.   I'm disappointed in him, and I want him to know it.  And I'm disappointed in myself, and I don't know how to fix it. 

Happy Birthday to me.  And it looks like Alexander the Great is going to have the last laugh. His son became the Emperor

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