I am the lousiest father
SUNDAY, April 11 – I’m sitting on the couch. Just sitting there. I feel like a lousy father and yet… Earlier today there was a resounding reality check with Sander who stubbornly resisted the ‘fun things’ I’d planned for today. I had tickets for a performance at a children’s theater downtown, but he wanted to stay home and fool around with the computer instead. That was too much for me and I lost my cool. Okay then. No computer for the rest of the day: for him, for Eamonn or for me.
The play was a disaster. It was about the death of an autistic girl, the Holocaust, a biker who had an accident and was beheaded, and machines in hospitals. Given the circumstances, it couldn’t have been any worse and at Eamonn’s request we left early, which was somewhat complicated in such a small theater. His well-being took precedence. Fuck the audience.
Eamonn and Sander fixed dinner and it looked like we’d rescued the day, but somehow things went wrong. Well and truly wrong. Sander kept going on about the computer and the fact that he was bored out of his mind. Eamonn and I were sitting happily on the couch reading. He’d pulled a blanket over our legs, slid his feet under mine and said that he used to do the same with Mom. The height of intimacy.
Sander went on and on. Until I lost my patience and sent him to his room. He stomped up the stairs. When I walked into his room, he came towards me and demanded that I leave. He grabbed my wrists and tried to push me away. I asked him to let go. Sander tightened his grip and glared at me. I asked him again. He refused. I pulled my hands away and slapped him across the face.
He was in a daze. Crying with rage, he threw himself on his bed. I bade him goodnight, after indicating that he’d gone too far and there was no way I was going to tolerate such lack of respect. Later he threatened to call the police if I ever hit him again. I told him to consider his own behavior – to look at himself.
I was, of course, out of line. You should never hit your children, but this time it seemed unavoidable. In some ways fathers and sons are equals while in some matters the roles are clearly delineated from one another. Jenn would have been appalled by this run-in, even if it might have been understandable: Sander and I are so much alike that we’re almost bound to clash. This time I had to take a stand.
Ten minutes later he came downstairs and threw himself sobbing into my arms. We both apologized. I repeated my promise, this time in a spirit of reconciliation: ‘Whatever happens, whether we’re mad at each other, or you don’t understand me, or you live somewhere else, I’ll always be there for you. I’ll always love you and you can always rely on me.’
‘Papa,’ said Sander, ‘I love you so much. And Mom, of course, and Eamonn.’
We were still clinging to each other when he continued, ‘I want you to know that Mom and I talked a lot. Especially when you and I had had yet another fight, I could always go to her. We talked about things you don’t know anything about, things I’m not going to tell you. It was between her and me. I want her back, Papa,’ Sander said. ‘I want her back’.
We clung to each other. We stood there like that for ten minutes. Never mind words, actions, and all the rest: feelings are far more important. And ours were more intense than ever.