Failing Father

I’m not the dad I should be.

All fathers (and parents for that matter) fall into slumps. Right now I feel like I’m under siege by every single aspect of my life. Our financial situation is, well, bleak. The creditors will not stop calling my freaking cell phone and it’s taking a toll. Christmas is around the corner and I can’t even afford gifts for all of my family members. Meanwhile Will has decided he no longer wants to sleep through the night. He’s waking up at 1, 2 and 3 o’clock in the morning and refusing to go back to bed. That leaves me blurry-eyed and draggin’ ass most mornings.

And as much as I hate to admit it, I’m just sad lately. As we inch towards 2011, I can’t help but think of Alex and how wonderful it would’ve been to hold our New Year’s baby for the first time. I know MJ feels it too. There’s a general sense of loss and emptiness surrounding us that really just sucks.

The problem is I don’t do sad. Never really have. My version of sad is angry. Seething, venomous rage that spreads throughout my body like poison and burns unabated, before settling into a smoldering hot fire. I’m not violent or anything, just intensely unhappy.

The first thing that goes is my patience, and as every parent knows that is the one thing you need in spades to successfully deal with a toddler. I’ve lost patience with myself, with MJ and unfortunately with Will. When he talks back to me or — even worse — if he hauls off and hits me I feel my blood pressure go through the roof. When he cops an attitude after I ask him to pick up his toys, my head nearly pops off my shoulders. It’s not pretty.

The last straw has been his poorly timed decision to wake up insanely early every morning. He gets up and immediately starts to whine. I tell him to go back to bed, he whines some more. Then he demands milk. I tell him it’s too early for milk and I put him back in his room. Now he’s gone from whining to screaming bloody murder. To make matters worse, his shrilly voice demands either his monkey, dump truck or crane. Whichever one is lost at the moment, it seems, because I can never find what he’s looking for.

He asks for milk, which I then get, and then he throws the cup at me. He wants his monkey, which I give to him, but as soon as he has it he wants nothing to do with it and cries for something else. He hits me. He pinches me. After 20 minutes of assaulting my ears with his piercing shrieks, something inside of me just snaps.

“Go to bed! Be quiet and go to bed right now or so help me you’re getting the bare butt spanking. STOP CRYING AND GO TO BED DAMMIT!!”

I regret what I’ve said before the words even leave my mouth. But at that moment I don’t care. MJ hears me yelling and kicks me out of the room for making my poor son cry even harder. She takes the time to figure out what’s wrong and then soothes him, which is what I should’ve done in the first place. I feel bad, but not bad enough to do anything about it right then and there. I crave sleep more than anything so off to bed I go.

It amazes me that he still greets me with a kiss and a smile in the morning. I hug him tight and tell him I’m sorry. He accepts my apology. I don’t deserve it. I don’t deserve my son or my wife.

As dads we can’t make excuses. No matter what’s going on in my life I need to put all of that aside and be a good father to my little boy, who I love more than anything. I’ve been failing in that regard as of late. And I really can’t be considered a finalist for Husband of the Year either.

It’s not easy, this thing we call parenting. By and large I put Will’s needs ahead of my own like all good parents should. But lately I’m feeling very selfish. Some days I want nothing more than a quiet house, a good movie on TV and a cooler of beer. I just want to escape from my problems for awhile, no matter how temporary a respite.

But good dads don’t make excuses. Good dads just do what they have to do and they do it while they’re smiling and playing with their kids. Even if that smile isn’t all that genuine at the moment.

While driving Will to daycare this morning, I told him I was sorry for yelling at him. And then I told him I loved him very much.

“It’s OK dad,” he said from the backseat. “You just need to be good boy.”

Yes son, yes I do. I’m working on it.

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14 thoughts on “Failing Father

  1. Man I have had some of those same moments and it always comes when I am tired. You have much more to deal with than me and I know heaping the lack of sleep on top makes in nearly unbearable. You are not a bad dad though. That is the furthest thing from the truth. I’ll be praying for you.

  2. Please don’t beat yourself up over this. You are a human being, and we all say and do things we wish we hadn’t. You sound like a good father to me because you realize you’re not doing the absolute correct thing at every moment. I’ve sometimes gone off on my kids, and every single time I pick my little girl up from school, she greets me with the most amazing smile ever. I must be doing something right I tell myself. And you should too. And, don’t worry about those damn creditors. There is only so much you can do about that. They can’t get money from someone who just doesn’t have it. Do what you can, and you’ll be fine. Now, remember you love your family and that’s the MOST IMPORTANT THING IN LIFE! Happy Holidays.

  3. Hey Aaron! There’s not a dad around that can’t relate to what you’re feeling. You’re not alone brother. Here’s one thing I learned- probably later than I wish. I can’t take away all the crap I thrust upon my kids in the past. But, I can do right by them today. I still remind myself that. I’ve got so much stuff I wish I could get a re-do on…but – welcome to life. You’re a good man. And you’ve got a lucky kid. Hang in there, friend.

  4. Moms do this to, just so you know. I blame some of my lack of patience on being 8 months pregnant, but I also know I’m not great at this job yet. Toddlers are HARD. Combine that with a shitty year (finances, Alex) and the holidays, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

    I say things to Declan that are mean sometimes. I have been more forceful with him than I ever intended to be. I’ve lost my temper and ended the day feeling like an overall piece of shit. I try to cope with that by remembering that he knows he’s loved, and that everything we do doesn’t impact every aspect of their life. Will still has it better than the high majority of kids out there because he has parents that love him and take care of his needs. Mistakes happen, but nothing will override your love for him.

  5. Not having any kids of my own I can’t say that I understand exactly what you’re going through with that, but I can relate to the stress and lack of patience. For us it currently comes from being a one income family with three quasi-children (cats + dog) and one real one on the way (with debt up to our eyeballs)! It’s trying to figure out how to make ends meet and deciding what we can live without or put off until later. It’s also the anxiety of trying to fit in 80 hours worth of stuff to do: for me, for her, for the “kids”, for the house, for my family, etc., in a 24 hour day (and the guilt that comes with that). There’s never enough time…

    What I have learned is that a happy wife IS a happy life. Remembering that and working towards improving some areas of stress leads to more patience for areas that are more difficult, like correcting a toddler’s behavior.

    K and I went to a seminar before we got married, and one of the things that stuck with me is the counselor said that kids can be a result of marriage, but we shouldn’t focus only on their wants and needs to the detriment of our self or our spouse. If our relationship isn’t nurtured it’s not going to do the kids any good. Sometimes you just have to give kids what they really need, and not give in to what they just want, to give yourself some space to meet your own needs.

    I see a lot of parents stress and put a lot of weight into every single moment of a child’s life, believing they have irreversibly shaped the kid’s outlook on life. I will probably be one of those parents. Cut yourself some slack; What he’s going to remember isn’t that you snapped at him on Tuesday but that you are always there for him and that you love him and his mom.

    I’m prepping for what has to be the biggest anxiety in my life now and in the future. You and your commentors are a great source of information for me. Thanks for sharing your troubles. I firmly believe that some lessons just need to be experienced to be understood but at least you guys have given me several points of view.

  6. BTW If you need some help with the creditors shoot me an email and I can let you know some things you can do to at least cut back on the calls. Case in point, if you tell them not to call you and that you want everything in writing going forward, they have to comply. Also, if these are collection agencies, there’s a whole crap load of stuff they need to prove, especially that they legally own the debt (ie documentation that they bought the debt from your original creditor), documentation showing exactly what the debt is for and documentation showing that you agreed to the service or purchase from the original creditor.

    I had several collection agencies come after me several years after I cancelled service with a cell phone company, for the same bill that I supposedly still owed. None of them were able to provide the proper documentation and all of them had to delete my record from their list.

  7. If it is of any solace, know that we have all been there. The fact that you recognize it says a lot about your great qualities as a Dad.

    Know that it does pass, things DO get better. Right now you are in the deepest part of the slog. Since I wrote my post 2+ years ago, things have gotten massively better. As my kids have gotten older and more independent, I’ve found that I do have more time to myself. And when I have some alone time, I find that I am much more willing and able to initiate activities with my kids instead of it always being the other way around. Proactive vs reactive.

    Hang in there.

  8. But good dads don’t make excuses.

    My friend the first thing you need to do is STFU and stop foisting illusions of grandeur upon yourself or the rest of us dads. Good fathers get their teeth kicked in, their balls twisted and a sackful of crap all the time. And most of us lose it, especially when the pressure is unrelenting.

    Take my advice for what it is worth, but give yourself a break. Don’t succumb to the stupid “cowboy or man up” remarks that people make. You are entitled to feel badly, to be angry and to be sad. The things you are dealing with are not excuses, they are reality. This won’t last forever, though it probably feels otherwise. Just keep your head down and move ahead.

    Obviously I don’t see you with your family so all I have to go by is what I read. But if only 25% of what you write was true you would still be guilty of doing a good job. The only critique I have to share is to beg you to stop abusing your son with this ridiculous love for Boston sports. Step back from the dark side. 😉

  9. This took a bit of courage to put out there. I read this shortly after one of the hardest days ever with my toddler.

    She was just plain awful. There were a lot of other problems involved, including but not limited to hormones, awful meds, illness, hearing loss, and high expectations on my part, as well as hunger and tiredness on her part. We were hoping to have a great “Christmas Eve” early with our little family and every moment was spent in time out or yelling or upset. My husband broke down on the 15th time I started crying and told her she “ruined Christmas.”

    We both still feel awful about it.

    But you know what? The next day she got up and came in and got in bed with us and snuggled and said I love you and we had a lovely lovely day. They are so forgiving, and although we are hard on ourselves, and probably shouldn’t say or do some of the things we do, we ARE human, and they know that. And love us anyway.

    Happy Christmas. You’re a great dad.

  10. It’s times like the ones you describe with Will that I go through myself which make me appreciate and understand MY parents even better.

    It’s all a part of growing as a parent.

  11. Aaron,

    I’m also one of those who’s been there (is there any parent who hasn’t?), with a frequency that appalls me.

    You probably don’t need to hear it, but one reason I read you is for the sheer courage you display in revealing your dark moments. It teaches me what honest writing is.

    Lincoln is a great hero of mine, and in his early years he was so in hock he referred to the amount he owed as “the national debt.” From there he went on to lose election after election, seven in all. His words of consolation? “This too shall pass.” It’s true of the highs as well as the lows.

    Whatever you write, I’m listening.

  12. We’ve all been there. Patience is the first thing that goes when you are tired. This too shall pass. I’m terribly impatient with our children sometimes. You’ll get through it.

  13. I’m, obviously, not a dad, so I’m not able to relate 100% on that particular front, however, I am a mom who has snapped, yelled, slammed out the back door just to scream at the wind (THANK HEAVENS I live in the middle of no where) for a quick minute to catch myself before taking a deep breath, walking back in the door, then returning to the ‘normalcy’ with a smile on my face as if the last 2 minutes never existed.

    As cliché as it sounds this really does pass, often with the help of some alcohol on occasion over time or some wonderful shrinks who dispense the good drugs (both in my case).

    I have also found recently that being able to just get away for even a tiny increment of time does WONDERS for my overall sanity and general happiness. For the first time in AGES I was able to get out a week or so ago without kids or husband and just sat in a friend’s hot tub gossiping for a few hours…my kids & husband were all asleep (hubs did know I was leaving out) but the ‘freedom’ of knowing I could be out and did not have to rush back was more refreshing than if I had slept for those 4 hours instead. Of course I’m due again for such an outing, but it’s not in the cards, so I’m hoping for the best for now.

    Much care and positive thoughts to you, MJ, & Will.

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