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Wuss Dads and Irresponsible Dads! What fun!

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You wuss dads know you’re out there, you’re all nice and everything and you hate, you absolutely hate to disappoint anyone, especially kids. Damn, you hate those disappointed looks. You can’t stand them. You’ll do anything to make them go away.


This is an understandable temptation, the temptation not to disappoint your kids, and sometimes it acts as a spur to keep you from indulging your worst instincts for laziness, sloth, apathy, and general giving-upness. But you cannot, on the other hand, be ruled by an inability to tolerate disappointing your kids. Bite the bullet, disappoint them, and don’t take it back. Some people want to delay this rite of passage forever by continuing to promise that they won’t disappoint the little suckers in the future, even though they are busy disappointing them now. I’ll make it to your next ball game I swear I will. Listen Bobby I promise I won’t ever lie to you again. From now on, I’ll quit drinking. Next time we’ll have a lot of fun. I’ll be back in time for your birthday, I promise. And on and on and on.

Can it. You’re disappointing them. You’re divorcing their mom, you’re traveling on business, you’re missing their graduation, you lied, you forgot, you screwed up. That’s it. That’s the deal. Say it. Like this: I screwed up. I didn’t want to screw up, I didn’t like screwing up, but that’s what I did. Screwing up is not fun but it happens. I am not in favor of it, but it happens.’ And so on. As a reward for this, your kids will hate you. That’s what they’re supposed to do. That’s the whole damn point of screwing up in the first place. If they don’t have a serious problem forgiving you, you didn’t do it right. They’re not supposed to forgive you for divorcing their mom, at least not for a long time. They’re not supposed to like you for it. If divorcing their mom is not exactly a screw-up, explain it for what it is, whatever that might be.

There are just 2 components to the proper failure – the failure itself and conveying that it is painful. Don’t try to act like divorcing their mom is an occasion for hearty good cheer. It’s not. Well, okay, in some ways it may be, but not in all ways, and probably not when it comes to your kids. So looked pained about it. Practice a pained expression. Practice looking distressed and as though you are carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. You should be, so make sure it’s visible and you are not accidentally hiding the truth just because you don’t care for it much in this instance. The truth that you don’t like screwing up is a vital part of your child’s eventual understanding of the situation. They don’t want you to be hurt. Your being hurt makes them mad and scared and mad and scared is exactly what they need to be. It is the toxin that will stimulate their little nervous systems to construct appropriate defenses and take vigorous, if potentially initially misguided actions against madness and scaredness.

You are doing them a favor. So don’t overdo it. If you run around failing willy-nilly and apologizing breezily later, you are sending the wrong message. You are sending the message that you don’t care enough to try and probably aren’t competent to do so anyway. This is not, ideally, the message you want to send. Remember our whole business about protection? You run around failing blithely without an eye to the consequences and you might as well be announcing that you couldn’t protect your young ones from a snowflake even if you were in an army tank. You are announcing your uselessness. Uselessness is not as enjoyable as you might think and it will hurt your feelings greatly down the line when you see in your kids’ eyes, exactly how useless they think you are.

If you have or had a dad who made failing something of an art form, bringing panache and style to it while overindulging beyond all calculation then you of course will face certain consequences.

Not enough confrontation with failure and you are doomed to live in a bubble. If you had a ‘hates to disappoint’ dad, you’re going to have to bite the bullet at some point and admit that he disappointed you. You can’t put off this step forever. Some of you really try. You try to idealize your dads beyond all reason because you know you can’t really be considered a grown-up as long as you do. It’s a clever trick, but life will call you out on it at some point. Some of you will end up in therapist’s offices, listening in surprise as a weary therapist points out to you the perfectly obvious fact that your dad was a no-good wimp and that doesn’t really work for kids.

So put it on your to-do list – de-idealize dad. Make a list of his flaws. Ruthlessly and with a certain amount of trepidation, admit to yourself that he broke your heart. That he isn’t always right. That he’s screwed up plenty of things, including, most probably, your life. Regret that he overprotected you. Admit that you wanted something different. Screw up your courage and announce to yourself that the desire to be nice all the time is not the same thing as being a good person. Note that intentions are not results.

All of this stuff will have the crazy side effect of making you take responsibility for your own life. Disagreeing with him and doing things your own way even if it hurts his feelings. Being upset and discontented even if it hurts his feelings. This sounds horrible I know, and perhaps it is, except that you will feel so so much better after you do it. It’s such a relief to just go ahead and live your life and not tiptoe forever around the need to just be disappointed in the guy. One less thing you have to worry about. And that’s always good.

Don’t worry – he’ll live. He’s a dad. He knows he was supposed to fail, he knows he already has. He was just afraid you wouldn’t love him anymore once he did and he didn’t think he could take that. Well, like or not, you do love him. You may be kind of angry with him once you realize you went pretty far down a garden path, but you do love him. So all that angst and wasted time was for nothing.

Now if you had the 2nd kind of dad, the disappoints all the damn time kind of dad, the fails and laughs charmingly about it kind of dad you have a different task. And that task is to get pissed off. It’s to stop acting like that’s okay. Because it isn’t. It’s damned annoying in fact. Sometimes hazardous. And certainly uncool. Not very caring, not very respectful, and rather selfish.

Sometimes people don’t want to get pissed about this kind of thing because they think if they do they’ll jeopardize what little love the geezer has for them. A legitimate concern. When you’re a kid. At that point, survival is an issue. When you’re grown up, it shouldn’t be. If he doesn’t love you now, you’re not going to die. You’re not necessarily going to be turning cartwheels, but you’re not going to die. So pony up and get pissed even if it means the charming, irresponsible rake will pretend to not love you and everything. He never really did anyway, so it’s no big loss, but oh these guys will sometimes try to make it sound like it’s one. Oh they’re disappointed in you, oh their feelings are hurt and so on. Too bad. They don’t really have feelings, although they are often quite good at simulating them, and even if they do – they’ll live. They’ve been living with their own failures for long enough that a little thing like this isn’t going to kill them. It might kill the conscientious types but not these guys.

Once you’ve gotten good and pissed, you need to train yourself not to be used to this kind of shit. Some of you have no problem getting really pissed but you keep hanging around hoping Mr. Failure is going to change and admit he did you wrong. Not likely. So skip trying.

Once you’re good and pissed, remove yourself from the situation to the greatest degree possible and announce to yourself that you hate people who let you down. And start looking for ones who don’t. Stop hanging around ones that do.
This all has to do with the ideal template factor. You need a template of the ideal dad in order to judge how life is supposed to be, what things you ought to go after, and what you ought to avoid. If you tell yourself that your non-ideal dad was just peachy, you will go hunting around after the wrong things. Tell yourself instead that your non-ideal dad hurt your feelings, let you down, stranded you in the lurch, broke your heart, made you mad, and didn’t kill you. Tell yourself that you although you have no particular need now to do something horrible to your non-ideal dad, your strong preference would be to find people who more closely resemble what you, underneath it all, actually value. Sounds tedious, and perhaps it is, but on the plus side it’s very emotionally harrowing and that should add some of the drama you have grown used to with an Irresponsible Dad.

 

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