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.
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.
– 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.
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.
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.
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.
component of Dadness up next....