I was drinking a Coke Zero at the kitchen table when my 8-year-old son asked if he could have a soda. I reminded him that he only gets one soda a week, and that he had that soda yesterday.
“But you get like a million sodas a day, Dad,” he said. “That’s not fair.
A million is a high estimate, but it is true. I drink a lot of soda.
I’ve been hearing things like this a lot from him recently. Everything seems to be an example of injustice. I ask him to make is his bed, and he reminds me that my bed was not made this morning. I ask him to take a shower, and he asks if I took a shower. He’s at this age where everything should be about equality, and if I don’t live up to my own standards, then I am seen being unfair.
“Tristan,” I said. “Someday you will be able to decide how many sodas you can have in a week. But right now, that is not the case.”
Tristan was in a t-shirt that read, “Awesome Oregon Dude,” and a pair of blue cargo shorts. He placed his hands on his hips and narrowed his blues eyes, like he always does when I say something like that. His face, his eyes, reminded me a lot of myself when my mother used to tell me things like that.
“If you get a soda, then I get a soda,” he said.
We argued for a bit. We went back and forth. I reminded him about the rules. I told him that he has rules, and I have rules, and they are different depending on age and position in life. But regardless of what I said, he didn’t like my answer because nothing was leading to him getting to drink more soda.
This is one of my biggest problems with being a parent… being the example. Because the fact is, I’m a bad example. I wouldn’t say that I am a horrible example. I don’t drink or do drugs. I’ve never been in jail, and I do my best to treat my family right. It’s really just the petty stuff. The small things. The things that seem like a big deal to an 8-year-old, but in the grand scheme of life don’t really mean crap. Things like eating chips before dinner, or leaving my clothes on the bedroom floor, or not putting away my cereal bowl after breakfast. The sad thing is, I should have learned all of these things years ago. I should have them down. But I don’t. And I know that I need to teach my son how to do them, so I tell him to do it, but I don’t really want to make those changes myself. Which, at the age of 8, is seen as unfair, and as a teen, he will see me as a hypocrite.
I was the same way with my parents. They enforced rules that they didn’t always follow, and I hated it. Only now, as a parent myself, do I see how little things can lead to big things. I see how I need to give my son structure and rules. However, I am really crappy at following them. This is one of those horrible, vicious, cycles of parenting that proves that I am flawed, and yet, my position as a father has placed me in a position to be seen as superior.
After a few moments of arguing with Tristan, I finally opened up.
“Here’s the thing,” I said. “I have a problem. I drink way too much soda, and I know it. I need to stop, but I’m not doing a very good job. Part of it is your baby sister. She keeps me up in the night. And I work too many hours. I have a hard time staying awake in the day, so I drink soda. I don’t expect you to understand any of this, but I hope that you do. But here is what I want from you. I want you to be better than me. I want you to be stronger and healthier. I want you to not have my bad habits. So that's why Mom and I set this rule. That’s why we set a lot of rules. Because we wish someone would have helped us learn how to not do certain things as kids, so that we wouldn’t do them as adults. Does this make sense?”
Tristan thought about what I said for a moment. His eyes shifted back and forth. I couldn’t tell if he understood, or if he was still trying to find a way to use my bad example as a way to get more soda.
After a few moments of silence I said,” Tristan. I’m not always going to be a great example. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t have to follow the rules. It means that I gave you the rules so that you will become a better adult than I am.”
Tristan looked at my soda can on the table. Then he let out a breath, curled his lips, and said, “I just don’t think its fair.”
“It’s not, Tristan. I’m sorry. But please realize that I want the best for you. Do you understand that?”
He put his head down and nodded.
“Let’s go to the park,” I said. “And stop worrying about soda.”
“Okay,” he said. “I will get my soccer ball.”
It is in moments like our argument over soda that I worry I am ruining my son. I feel like a contradiction. I feel under qualified. I want to be the example he needs, but I know that I never will be. All I can be is honest.
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 onFacebook and Twitter.