Wednesday, March 19, 2014

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Someday Our Kids Will Hate Us



 

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We were driving to have dinner with some friends when Norah, my four year old, started jabbing me in the head with a Disney Princess umbrella and saying, “I don’t love you, Daddy.”

I told her that she was being rude, and she said, “I only love, Mommy.”

I suppose this shouldn’t surprise me. Mel, my wife, is amazing, and I think I’ve said it before, but I love her more than the kids. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t love Tristan and Norah. I do. I love my kids a lot, and so I will go ahead and admit that I was a little hurt by what Norah said.

This is not the first time she’s said something like this. She has also told me that I am, a “bad daddy”, a “stinky daddy”, a “mean daddy”, and a “poop face.” Sometimes these names are prompted by placing Norah in her room for one thing or another, or from making her clear her own plate or do some other obligation. But honestly, most of the time they aren’t prompted at all. I’ll be driving, or reading, or whatever, and she will tell me that I’m mean, and when I tell her that she’s being rude, she will say, “Stop talking, Daddy! I need a quiet time!”

Perhaps this is a discipline issue. Perhaps it’s her, not me. But that isn’t the point. What I’m trying to get at here is that I can’t help but take what she says personally. I often tell myself that all kids pull shit like this. Tell their parents that they suck for no apparent reason, but perhaps my kids are the only ones. Perhaps I really am a mean daddy. Perhaps I really do have a poop face.

The Knight family lived about 20 minutes from us. The first 10 minutes of the drive Norah and I argued about her not loving me, and the last 10 minutes were spent in silence: Norah’s “quiet time.”

The Knight’s have three daughters that are close to Tristan and Norah’s ages (four and six). David works as an industrial hygienist for a local factory, and Jessica is a stay-at-home mom. Both are in their late 20s.

We had a nice meal, and once the kids were in the backyard playing, Mel mentioned what Norah had said in the car on the way to their house. The Knight’s both confirmed that their kids pull the same kind of crap, we mentioned a few examples, and then somehow the conversation drifted towards our own parents.

We talked about which parents we liked, and which ones we didn’t. I mentioned that I struggle with my mother (we never really have gotten along), and that she still holds animosity towards me because I moved in with my grandmother after my parents’ divorce. I then mentioned that my Dad was a drug addict who abandoned my mother, so I never had a lot of respect for him. Jessica went on about how much she loves her mother, and how she struggles with David’s mother. Apparently David struggles with his mother too, and after about 25 minutes of us chatting about our parents, I finally said, “The really sad thing about all of this is how it makes me realize that someday my kids will probably hate me. All this unconditional love crap, well, I don’t know if it’s true. And if they don’t hate me, the person they marry probably will.”

We all laughed at first, and then the weight of it set in, and we got quiet for a moment. In the yard, we could hear the kids playing.  And in the silence of our conversation, I wondered if this was all inevitable. Perhaps there is no way to avoid my kids hating me. Perhaps Norah already did. And then I started to wonder what I’d gotten myself into. I started to wonder if it would all be worth it, this whole parenting thing.

I mean, if Tristan and Norah are going to grow up and hate me after I have worked so tirelessly for them, then what is the point? Perhaps this is why my father turned to drugs, because he and my mother had this same conversation with another couple 20 something years ago, and he said, To hell with it. They are going to hate me anyways, I might as well get high.

Parenting is such a complicated mess of wrong choices, right choices, emotions, sacrifices, highs and lows, and unachievable expectations. In the end, it all might turn out to be a complete wash. It might also turn out to be the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. Parenting is a huge gamble, and I suppose the worst thing I can think of right now is a grown Tristan and Norah sitting at a dinner table next to their future spouses, bitching about how much they hate Mel and me. Perhaps this is why the fifth commandment is: Honor thy father and mother. It forces kids to love their parents even when they really don’t want too. Even when they make irritating and poor decisions.

Mel broke the silence. “I actually really get along with my parents,” she said. Then she looked at me and said, “And I don’t really have a problem with your mother because she keeps to herself.”

I must say that it’s true. Mel and her mother talk on the phone most nights, and she absolutely adores her father. And as Mel spoke, I thought about something Paul, my father-in-law, once said about my brother-in-law, “I’m sure he does complain about me. I’m sure you do, too. I’m an in-law. You’re supposed to complain about me.” As he spoke, he had a huge smile. The contentment on his face seemed to say, I have made amends with this, and I still love you. I don’t take any of it personally. He does a really nice job of giving all his kids, in-laws or not, the benefit of the doubt. And maybe this is the key to making it all worth it.

When I think about that, I realize why Paul is such an easy guy to get along with. He knows that he’s not perfect. He knows that he’s going to piss off his kids from time to time, and he knows that his kids are going to do some boneheaded things. But regardless of what his children or their spouses think of him, he’s still got a lot of love in his heart for his family.

I can learn a lot about unconditional love from his example.

As we left the Knight’s, it was raining. I helped get Norah in her car seat, and as I did, she placed her hand on my face and said, “Daddy. You’re warm.” Then she kissed my nose, and I asked, “Do you love me now?”

“Yes.” She said.

“Will you love me tomorrow.”

She shrugged.

“That’s okay,” I said. “I will still love you, tomorrow.”

Norah rolled her eyes and said, “I know, Daddy.”

“Good.”

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times Motherlode, Huffington Post Parents, Huffington Post Weddings, and The Good Men Project. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley

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