This one is tough. Tonight I became very frustrated at my son for not focusing while trying to help him with homework. He’s learning about calendars and so I was simply trying to get him to look at the calendar and tell me how many days October had as my pencil rested pointing at the “31.” He decided he’d rather just change the subject, or play with a nearby toy, or take wild guesses without even looking at the paper. I grew quite upset and told him so and that he needed to please focus and do the work.
This goes back to the “fun dad” crap. I think he just believes I’m a fun play thing that isn’t to be taken seriously or respected. Even though I help him with his homework every night - and work very hard to give him positive reinforcement and assistance without doing the work for him - I think it may reinforce to him that I’m some sort of servant.
Real quick - he doesn’t have to do the homework. His teacher sends it home with him because she wants us to know what they’re working on and to give us the option. Our view is if the other kids are expected to do it, we should make the same effort. It also helps to establish routines and expectations. He doesn’t have many chores around the house yet, so he can at least give us a little bit of time for schoolwork.
So I became more and more frustrated. Recognizing this, I excused myself to calm down and when he decided to focus and do his homework as is expected of him, he could let me know. A few minutes later we tried again, this time with (what I hoped) were less distractions.
I should mention we were at his Grandma’s for dinner. I thought we could just crank it out after dinner leaving us more time to play.
Still on the same question about October and 31 days, my son informed me that October had only 1 day. I thought he was joking. He wasn’t and he grew more and more defiant with me as I told him that he should try again.
At this point I said we should say our goodbyes, go home, and try again in our familiar setting. I was really worked up at this point. I was trying to keep my voice steady but firm, but I was in the red. That’s when my wife said, “Oh calm down.”
I threw her coat down on the floor.
“I don’t need this shit from you and I don’t need it from him.”
I didn’t yell, but I was full on pissed off.
And I left the house to wait by the car.
So that went well.
I calmed down.
So did Ben.
My wife did too though we rode home in silence.
Things were pretty well diffused by the time the garage door closed. We went inside. Started to joke around. We went up to the kitchen table and got the homework out. Tried again and I came at the problem from a different angle and he got it. Rest of the homework went great. Lickety split.
Bath time. Jammies. Snuggles. Sleep. All good.
Reluctantly, my wife told me what happened after I excused myself from Grandma’s house:
Ben came to her crying. Very very upset. He didn’t understand why Dad was so mad. My wife explained that “Dad was frustrated that you weren’t focusing on homework and not listening to him when he was trying to help.”
”When he gets mad like that, I don’t know if he loves me anymore.”
Bennett feels everything so intensely. It’s part of Williams Syndrome. They’re true empaths. They pick up on slight changes in moods and emotions. Since Ben is only 6, he can’t distinguish the complexity of some emotions, but he sure can feel the intensity of them.
“I don’t know if he loves me anymore.”
Could there be a more concrete example of how much I have failed as a dad?
My son should never feel for one second that I don’t love him. I’ve never even jokingly raised a hand to him. I’ve always tried my best to be there for him to show him the beauty and joy in this otherwise shitty world. But I’m a midwestern, Lutheran-raised, Scandinavian/German guy. I tend to bottle everything up until it bursts. It’s not an excuse, it’s just illustrative of a pattern in my behavior that I hear about in others.
I think when I get really boiled I’m like Josh Lyman in the West Wing. (<— link) I don’t fully grasp the energy I put out when I’m upset and how I seem to the people on the outside.
Clearly I have to do better, specifically as it pertains to my son.
For now, whether I accept it or not, the fact is I’m a failure as Ben’s dad.
I’m trying so damn hard and I don’t seem to be improving even a tiny bit.