Dad Post: This side of failure

I had all intentions of writing a post on beer tonight. I pulled out the original house beer (wild) did from when I was still living in limbo at my mom’s house after we moved back from Maine and version two which has sat for about a year and a half. I took notes, ratings the nine. I did all of this to try to take my mind off my Dr. Jekyll of child and as I sat thinking about what I could say my mind was clouded, a dark storm thunder head, by my wryly son.

The past couple of weeks, he’s been pushing my buttons worse than ever and I’ve put pressure on him to “improve” (ie, no iPad at the table, less sass, etc). That is until Friday when the boat was pushed from the harbor to the murky churning seas of toddler anger. The long and short of it is he’s very much like me – short-tempered, bull-headed, and unwavering will – put two of us in a room and toys will get tossed, tears will be shed, and voices will reach at the very edges of vocal rage. Thursday, he’s sick, needs attention snuggles me all day, doesn’t want me out of arm’s reach. Friday I go to work and we’ve already clocked one time out for hitting. Not ten minutes after I walk through the door he’s in it again. As we move through the weekend it becomes a battle zone where my wife – who had never been at the receiving end of Finn’s rage – found herself at the brink as well. Sunday was spent at Gary’s for a short visit with our return home devolving into a new timeout format (understandably difficult), a couple of hours working to cool heads, and Finn playing in his room by himself for the rest of the evening.

I say all of this not to complain to but to show. Before this weekend I felt we were doing everything right. Finn is (was?) a dream son: fantastically behaved, sweet, and while an instigator – he knew other’s limits (as well as his own). But now, sitting in bed writing this – I feel like I’ve lost. Our relationship crumbled, I feel like I’ve not only failed as a dad, but Finn, myself and it all.

I can only hope this is a spell due to being sick, or turning three in a month, or I’m not sure – to be honest, but I’ve got to hope. I can only hope that he’ll wake up not being a terror. Not pushing my face while putting on jammies or crying about which car seat he’s in or scratching my arms when he’s not listening – I don’t know where it all came in. It’s like a flood and we’re drowning. I soldiered on through the hour of failed 4-min timeouts and felt he was finally getting it, thought that it was sinking in the more we told him he had to play in his room, ate up all his dinner, unaided, and bathtime was a breeze (which is unusual) but when he accidentally poked my face when I put on his jammies and he kept doing it while laughing and then stopping to only pick up a toy to then bang it into my glasses I couldn’t take it anymore. Rudolph went flying.

He went to sleep in a blink, so maybe there will be light. More days ahead and a calmer head must prevail.

Beer next time, cheers.

Why I’m A Bad Father

You start at zero, basically. For those old enough to either have children or really appreciate what it’s like to have them you understand. No one really knows what the hell they are doing, and if they say they do – they are lying. I’ve felt like running down a too-steep hill – that clomping almost-falling barely catching yourself kind of way – for the first year. Just when you feel like you have a remote semblance of understanding, a new milestone is reached and the proverbial wrench comes wading in.
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Thing is, I’m not a terribly spectacular dad. We don’t do flash cards, or spend an hour here or there hammering lessons on what color a horse is versus a zebra. I don’t push him to speak to me, and usually find myself mumbling whatever nonsense back to him. We speak in fart noises and “mab mab mab”s. Fun cut with the danger of bodily harm is routine.

But I do care for my son. I watch what he eats. I make sure he’s as safe as possible while still being adventitious. We go on walks, and allow him to find his own fun at the park. We learn how to pick up after ourselves, and how to treat animals. I like to have fun and play, but also drive a hard-line when it comes to doing things he shouldn’t (stay out of the GD cat water). So while I’m not force feeding him lessons on the growth patterns of butterflies, or hung up on his inability to speak, we find and work out other ways to progress. He’s walking and running and playing on his own, puts things away when he’s done, likes to read (so much as he can), in a class with kids twice his age, and loves to watch out the windows.

And look, I’m an okay person. Not super great, but I don’t want him to think my slouching mediocrity is a life goal. Maybe I’m too hard on myself, but I’d rather instill some kind appetite for success. It’s never interested me, and I’ve been horribly lucky on not becoming a slug – but I’m more of a remora. Gliding along not causing too much a stir and living off the hard work of others. Those who I attach myself to don’t mind me, so I skirt along. Maybe that is why I feel like I’m so hard on him, or why I want him to so independent. Because when you couple that I feel like I’ve not done anything to stake my claim and my daily fear of passing on my flooded pessimism, ADHD, mild depression – it’s hard not worry. I want him to be better.

Maybe I’m a ‘Bad Father.’ I always go to sleep wondering how I can do better. I’m bad at it sure, but as with everything – it takes time to get good. If you’re a dad reading this, know that you are bad too, everyone is – just learn from your mistakes and lament on your pitfalls. Make things right, be honest.

Maybe by the time he’s tucking me into bed I will master it.

Another Failure – Tooting My Horn

In fourth grade I played the viola.  In retrospect, I only really played it because I couldn’t play any of the cool instruments allotted to fifth graders. So my mother shelled out the money to rent two separate instruments two years in a row – I guess I can’t complain we never were allowed anything.

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But it was when I was my movement to the band instead of orchestra that I picked up a golden tube of pure disappointment.

I’m not one for practice, at least when, and so anytime I’d pick the thing up to teach myself a thing or two my heart wasn’t in it and my “practice sessions” lasted less and less time. I didn’t really care about the damn thing to begin with and only wanted to fit in with some girl I was eyeing – that cute girl in drum line two rows behind me. When the whole band would practice together, I always kicked myself for not picking up the snare drum instead to awkwardly eye her from the same row. Fifth grade band went scooting by in quiet clumsiness and I usually just moved my hands on the keys while my peers played during concerts.

Then middle school came knocking. At Hubble, kids in band stayed after and the thirty something with a four-foot pony-tail brought a much stronger presence than my lumpy elementary band conductor did. I made it to one session. I couldn’t hold up the lie anymore. Lessons were no longer played together, where I hid my playing behind my classmates. There were deadlines and song were to be memorized. My excuses were riddled with holes, and I just didn’t care anymore. To top it off my little drummer girl was only spotted in a sea of kids on concert nights; the band, as a whole, rarely played together.

I quit, much to the chagrin of my mother –  who was, unsurprisingly, upset about flushing a chunk of money on something she had pressured me take more seriously, even having a conversation before renting for another year. Was sure I wanted to play in middle school? That poor woman.

Shelly

In the micro-verse that is early middle and late elementary school there are few girls to choose from, most of which were based out of proximity. My sister had a friend named Shelly. Even at a young age I could tell her face was broken and jagged. Strange angles gave way to muted expressions and rigid skin. In my entirety of exposure to women, school but mostly television, I knew what ugly was. Shelly was it.

In the haze of childhood I cannot remember which summer it was that I was forced into relations with Shelly but I remember it was short lived. My sister wanted to kiss my friend Johnny, a much older best-friend of mine, mostly because of that fact alone. The new couple devised that my first french kiss should involve someone who knew a thing or two about them. The train wreck, Shelly, knew a thing or two.

Her and I sat at the top of the stairs and I questioned her on the physics of it all to delay the inevitable: my tongue would have it’s first visit into a mouth besides my own, and it was into this creature’s face.

The moment was short and forced. I rammed my timid and sloppy mouth against hers, she and I sword fought with our tongues chasing each other around in there for what seemed for too long. I was over it maybe too quick and sat back looking at her timidly, wondering to myself who I would be able to use my newly christened skill with. Her twisted face broke into a smile looking for a reaction.

My sister called up from the living room down and behind us, “Did you kiss?”

This allowed me an opening to move away and not deal with the scrawled maw of my kissing concubine. I answered with an awkwardly cheerful “yeah!”

Shelly and I sat and went over the details of what I could do to improve and “what most girls like.” The bottom of the stairs and the front door where more interesting and kept the conversation going to placate the girl on my left.

Later, Johnny and I left to play video games and talk in private about how awesome kissing was. I tried to blind out the fact that he was talking about my sister and I was talking about the one girl everyone knew to be fiendishly gruesome. It was the last time I was left kissing Shelly and the last time he kissed my sister.

Diane

I’m not sure where it spun from with Diane. I think there was always this weird common ground between her and I. She was never into me, so far as I could tell, and my feelings were never that strong due to her better-than-average good looks and her status in the social rungs of high school. Diane was always holding her snubbed thumbs in clenched fists, drying out the knuckle and making them that much more noticeable. I found her fear and weakness to be admirable. She was in my classes in Middle School so there was familiarity as we aged.

Diane and I went out on our first real date on Valentine’s Day the same year I ended up with a car. Her and I ended up talking in class one day, in our after-lesson work time the teacher had provided. She was busy complaining about her dateless Valentine’s Day to the girl behind her, and I on helping the moose in front of me with his algebra. I waited for my time to jump in and said that “I’d take you out.” Something I thought was nonchalant, but I’m sure came out terrifyingly awkward. As a kid in high school, I existed in the frail state of between social circles, I was never sure of myself (a consistent aliment), and never knew if I should be honest or underhanded. A back and forth between her and I sprouted. It ended with me saying that I’d pick her up for dinner and joking that she better not stand me up.

We were going as friends.

Dinner was at Maggiano’s, a chain Italian restaurant with dark lighting and big booths – a high school equivalent to fine dining. Conversation was awkward and even our clothes were unsure if we were seriously considering this as a date. I had on my standard attire at the time – pleated kakis, beat up gym shoes, and some childish graphic t – with a collard shirt to dress it up a bit. She wore a pair of nice jeans and a dressy top, something she might wear to a nice party – the kind I was never invited to nor even knew about.

Our relationship had previously only existed on a level where we were surrounded by peers, in a loud hallway or a hushed classroom. This was new for both of us and we weren’t sure how to act. We were unsure if we were ready to become adults. Our date went surprising well after the initial jitters. So much so, that for the rest of the semester together and even when we’d see each other in the random splay that was the towns we lived in, she would mention how that had been her favorite date.

We stayed acquaintances for a long time, even without corresponding classes or social circles, during those couple of last years before graduation. I even took her to prom because her boyfriend didn’t want to shell out the cash. Which became the only dance and post-prom I had a good time at. All of the following dances were like Sophomore year in college where you return to only attempt to relive those moments you remember.

Speaking of college: on the first week there, I get a phone message from a number I don’t recognize. It’s Diane and she is at the same college. We meet up at her dorm and she takes me on a tour of her discombobulated floor structure, meeting all the fresh faces, and her room. Her wall held a cork board with the good times she was already having. I had only had two beers in my new collegiate life. Diane had concluded that she was, in fact, quite tired and laid down. I got into bed with her and she drew me close trying to remember something that was really never there. Unsure, overwhelmed, maybe missing all of the signs, I fell asleep. The afternoon faded away with us laying there reaching for memories of what was left of our awkward growth into adulthood.

Her roommate came back from wherever she had gone, making our transition from alone in bed to my departure that much easier. Words of calling me about a party or getting together again were passed but seemed forced. It was the last time I saw Diane.