I came home from work late, around 9 p.m. Mel, my wife, was sitting in the rocker, lullabies playing on her phone, trying to get the baby to sleep. Norah, our five-year-old, was deep asleep in her room. And Tristan, our son, was sitting on his bed reading.
That day I’d left for work early, long before the kids were up, and came home late, after most of them were in bed, and so I was happy to see that Tristan was still up. I walked into his room, leaned onto his bed, and expected him to look up and smile. But he didn’t. He just kept looking at his book.
He was in his underwear, a quilt wrapped around his legs. “Hey, buddy. How was…” I went to ask him about his day, and he raised his finger cutting me off. I will admit that approaching someone and asking them about their day while they are in the middle of reading can be rude. I don’t really like it when people do it to me, either. As Tristan held up his finger, he looked like a little adult. He looked focused and concentrated, and I could see him growing up, and part of me hated it. There was a time when I came home from work, or school, or wherever and Tristan would run to me, his face filled with excitement, and I’d lean down and give him a hug, and he’d cling to my neck, insisting that I pick him up.
Now he seems less and less interested in me. He seemed to see me as a bit of a drag. Last time I dropped him off for school, he sprinted out of the van so I couldn’t give him a hug. I secretly longed for him to be hit by a car. Not hard enough to kill him, but just enough to rattle him some. Then I would have the pleasure of leaning over as he was sprawled out in the street and saying, “If you don’t hug your father you get hit by cars. I’m sorry, but it’s just the way the world works.”
I was part of the problem, too, though. I find Tristan more and more irritating. He’s at that age where I swear there is a code, or a command, or some other programming in his brain that seems to say, “If dad says something, do the opposite, ignore it, or contradict him because he is always wrong.” Just a few days ago we were painting toy boxes and I told him not to use so much paint on the hinges because it could make them stick together. He looked at me like I was a stupid asshole, scoffed, and kept on painting the hinges. Ten minutes later his box wouldn’t shut all the way, and when I said, “I told you so,” he said, “No, you didn’t” as if our conversation didn’t happen, or he didn’t want it to have happened. Either way, little things like this are really frustrating right now, and it makes it hard for me to want to spend time with him. I know that some parent’s frown on fathers saying stuff like this, but in so many ways, in this stage of life, I find my son irritating. This doesn’t mean that I don’t love him. It just means that he is in an obnoxious phase that will probably last for the next ten years, and somehow I’ve got to learn how to love him.
I stood next to his bed for a good five minutes, waiting for Tristan to put his finger down so that I could talk to him. Eventually he looked up, said, “Hey, Dad,” and went back to reading.
“How was your day?” I asked, “Did anything super cool happen?”
He shook his head.
“Did anything kinda cool happen? Or regular cool?””
I was trying to wait him out. I do this sometimes. I just sit and wait until he will give me some attention. I don’t really like doing it, but I feel it’s important. In so many ways I suspect that Tristan is just as irritated with me right now as I am with him. It’s a strange relationship, and yet for me, as the father, I feel I need to keep trying. I have a deep fear that Tristan will grow up to resent me if I don’t really try to push through to him. If I don’t make sure that he knows I love him and am interested in him. I know many adults that really dislike their parents, and I don’t want that for us, and yet, in moments like these, where Tristan hasn’t seen me all day, and the dislike on his face for me because I’m asking about his day is clear and present, I can feel us drifting apart.
I considered walking away, but I decided to crawl up on his bed and read over his shoulder. He looked at me for a moment, and then looked away. He was reading “The Return of the Homework Machine.” I asked him if he was enjoying it as much as the first book, and he shrugged.
I pushed it a little further and asked him about one of the characters listed on the page.
“It’s just some guy that says he walked from Mississippi to the Grand Canyon,” he said.
“Dude,” I said. “That’s crazy.”
Tristan giggled. “I know!” Then he went on about this character. About how he lies all the time, and then… he scoffed in disbelief, “He puts it all up on a website!”
“What a nut,” I said. And suddenly we were talking. We were chatting about the book. I asked him questions, and he answered them, and I realized that it was just going to get harder to break through to him. Each year I was going to have to find new ways to get him to talk to me. Those easy days, when he ran to me, were starting to end.
We talked about “The Return of Homework Machine” for a moment more. Then I tucked him in and he asked, “Why did you work late?”
He looked at me with a bitter face and I was struck with two emotions. I hated that I had to work late, and I hated that he’d noticed and felt hurt by it.
“I just had to, Bud. It seems to be the way things are going. But get this. Tomorrow, I’m getting off early.”
He smiled larger than I’d seen him smile in a while, and my heart swelled as much as it used to when he’d meet me at the door.
“Can we go to the park?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said.
He smiled again, and then, I tucked him in for the night.
You would also enjoy, Daddy rage.
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.