Saturday, March 21, 2009


As a father I had hardly any rules. Only one, really. No disrespect. Pretty much everything falls under that category, though. It might sound vague. Yet somehow it was always very clear, very easy to understand. Obedience is a part of respect. Diligence too. And honesty. The way I looked at it, I deserved respect, and we should get what we earn. My son never had any trouble understanding this.

Part of it, of course -- deserving respect -- is giving it where it is due. It's like love. We love our new babies not because they are better than some other new baby, but because they are ours. I've said this before. Over time we come to love them for themselves. Biology takes a backseat to personality. We get to know them, and if we are wise, we seek out everything within them that is worthy of respect, and we nurture that. Sometimes we just have to ignore the rest -- because some flaws just don't matter ... they amount to opinion. We should argue about opinion?

I hardly ever had to punish my son. They were always gentle, little punishments. Token gestures, for token offenses. He was, after all, small, and two minutes in the corner has as much meaning as a half hour. More, really, since it's brief enough to comprehend, and too brief to breed resentment. No TV for the night seems like a bigger punishment, but healthy children always have other things to do.

Punishment isn't about pain. It's about balance. So usually I'd have my boy decide on his own punishment. We should have a stake in justice, after all. Funny thing is, now that I pause to think about it, he would usually choose a more severe punishment than anything I would have picked. I'd talk him into something lower. It makes me laugh, now. I'd forgotten that.

As they grow older, more sophisticated, more secretive -- well, that's just part of the process. We have to honor that as well. My son's teen years were pretty easy for me. You see, he respected me. Even when it was hard for him to think straight, what with all those teenager emotions and hormones. I could see he wanted to be rude, or arrogant, or whatnot -- but he decided not to be. How could I have been more pleased? Character isn't about not being tempted.

For my part, I certainly made mistakes. Nothing horrifying, that I know of. But as I had cause to recall the other day, even if my son came to me now and said, "Hey dad, remember that time you did such and such? Well that was really unfair and it hurt me, and I'm still angry about it" -- well, there's a part of me that would be saddened by it, and another part that would be dismayed, and another that would think that he was being a little baby. I'd say to him what I'm saying now -- I was an excellent father, and if I made mistakes, which I surely did, they were just that, mistakes. And I didn't have to be perfect, anymore than he did. It's not about invalidating his feeling. It's just another way that I demand respect: he has to make sacrifices as a son, the same as I do as a father.

One time the ice cream guy was going by, pushing his cart. "Oh dad, can I have a dollar for ice cream?" No. "Please?" No. "Pleeeaaase???" Alright, if you never ask again. "Okay." I had him sign a contract. A few times after that I saw him start to ask. But he remembered. And I'd give him a dollar. And sometimes I'd hear the ice cream guy go by and give my boy a dollar. But mostly I didn't. I have to think now, that I took advantage of him. Never again is a long time. But I don't feel guilty.

Now he's a man, and anyone who has glanced through these pages, reaching back over three years now, cannot have missed how proud I am of him. Fathers are always bound by biology. Almost always. So I would love him if he were a transsexual drug addict. Indeed, I'd take the blame into myself. I was his father, you see, and some large part of the responsibility would be mine. But I have been spared that trial. Instead, I have been blessed.

That's it. Just something I had to say. It occurred to me to share it -- the way parents show pictures of their children to strangers, who pretend to be interested. Isn't it sweet? -- my enthusiasm? It's endearing. I have to smile at myself.

It seems that we don't only choose our punishments. We choose our blessings as well.


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