My 7-year-old came through the kitchen and into the living room, white footprints trailing him. A week earlier a friend made us some toy boxes, and Mel, my wife, thought it would be a good idea to have the kids paint them. Tristan had been out on the patio adding primer to his box, and had obviously not checked his feet before entering the house.
He stood on the living room carpet, in old jeans, old socks, and a red shirt with “Portland” printed on it. His short buzzed head to his Despicable Me socks was spackled with primer, and as I looked at his feet mashing an icy white goo that I didn’t know how to remove into my carpet, I felt a white hot rage creep up my chest, and rest just below my jaw.
“Dad, come see my box,” he said.
I didn’t respond, rather I swept him up in my arms, and carried him out to the garage. I could see his footprints through the garage, and out to the patio, and all I could think about was how hard it was for me to get a home loan. How it took Mel and I over a year of scrimping and saving and negotiating with a mortgage broker and realtor before we could finally make it happen. I thought about how I worked two jobs to make the payments each month, how we’d hardly lived there a year, and how I wanted it to be respected, not covered with paint primer.
By the time I set him down on the patio, I was trembling with dad rage, something I’d seen in my father the day I plugged our shower drain with a rag so I could take a “shower bath” and filled the shower so full of water that it broke the shower door and ran water out into the hallway, ruining the linoleum. I must have been nine-years-old, close to Tristan’s age. At the time I didn’t understand why my father was so angry. Why he yelled at me. Why his face turned the color of red brick. Why this was such a big deal. Why I should care about our house, our home, when I was just trying to do something fun.
In so many ways I didn’t get it until that moment, when my son tracked paint primer into my living room.
Tristan was standing now, looking up at me, his blue eyes a little misty and confused, and I crouched down and said, “Look! Look at what you did. Look at the footprints. Why didn’t you check your feet, Tristan?” I went on, pointing out the obvious, as Tristan’s eyes moved side to side, taking it in. He was so excited to paint his box, and in the moment, I didn’t think about any of that. How he’d looked forward to painting that box so much that he’d come straight home, immediately finished his homework (something he never does without a fight) and went outside to paint. He was focused on this new exciting moment in his life, while I was flipping my shit about footprints.
Tristan keep repeating “it was an accident,” and I didn’t understand how he couldn’t understand that it was preventable. Why he couldn’t get how much this home represented, and why he wouldn’t take two seconds to check his feet before running into the damn the house.
After several moments of lecturing him, I told him that paint time was over, and to strip down and get in the tub. He gave me a confused look, and I knew that he didn’t know just what he’d done wrong, but he knew that I was mad. He was in a strange grey area that kids often fall into, where they are in trouble for doing something they didn’t know was wrong, and didn’t expect, and don’t fully understand.
I went into the kitchen and gazed at the footprints, not knowing how to approach the problem. I’m not a handy person. I don’t really get how to fix things, or clean things, or make things better. That’s why we bought a newer home. So as I looked at the footprints, I felt overwhelmed. I felt like I was faced with this unachievable task, and would most likely have white footprints on the floor until I paid someone to remove them. And as I thought, I got angrier. I got more frustrated and irrational, and I started to talk to myself in a strange tongue, a mix of swearwords and statements that must have sounded crazy to an outsider, but seemed reasonable to me at the time.
I scrubbed the kitchen floor with window cleaner and paper towels, hoping to get the primer up while it was still wet. I was surprised how easily it was removed. Then I scrubbed at the footprints on the carpet with upholstery cleaner, and they came up easily, too.
It was only then that I began to think rationally. To realize that Tristan had never painted anything before, and didn’t know to check his feet, and that the way I reacted is probably going to scare him from ever using paint again. Suddenly I felt like an asshole. I don’t know why it has to be this way. Why I have to get so pissed, shoot off my mouth, and then, once things are solved, be able to think with my mind rather than emotions.
I went into the bathroom. Tristan was flat on his back in the tub, his head under water. I sat down on the edge of the tub, and he lifted his head just enough that his ears were out.
Part of me wanted to explain myself. I wanted to tell him about the house, and how hard I worked for it so he’d understand my rage. But I didn’t know just how to tell him.
“I’m sorry for getting so mad,” I said. “I want you to do artistic stuff. I just want you to be sure to check your feet every time you paint… got it? I’m not mad anymore. I was just frustrated.”
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. 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 work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.