My wife left me this weekend. Ran off to Louisville to attend a planning meeting for a group of volunteer alumni. She does it a couple of times a year, getting together with former missionaries who once served the poor and outcast all over the globe, and now work as artists, social workers, or pastors who find a way each day to make the world a better place. It’s righteous work. Very inspiring. Just being around these folks gives you hope. I, for one, am proud of my wife, who gets to use her abundant talents of organization, inclusiveness, and collaboration to help them all keep the fire burning.
But she left me. Alone. With the kids. What kind of mother does that?
A highly intelligent, perfectly sane, rational mother. That’s who.
I travel for work. A lot. I’m gone an average of 2-3 days per week, so Gabby gets plenty of “quality time”’ with the kids. And Gabby, being the giver that she is, simply wanted me to experience the joys of parenting without having to share my children with anyone.
And I did enjoy Daddy Boot Camp. The part I liked best was being on the good side of the parenting double-standard. It seems that anytime I go in public with my kids, whether picking up groceries or getting an oil change, women can’t take their eyes off me. No. I wish it was because I had abs of steel and biceps like swollen grapefruits.
It’s because unsupervised men who can keep their own children alive for 24 hours are considered miracle workers.
* Michael Keaton as Mr. Mom. My Hero.
Women smile at me. They wink. Some say, “Good job, Dad!” Others will even introduce themselves and say, “Wow. You are such a good father. So involved.” This happens without fail. I’m convinced that Audrey and Jake could be lobbing live grenades into the clown’s mouth at the drive-thru fast food joint, and the ladies would look my way and say, “How creative! Encouraging role playing games!”
But, if Gabby is out with the kids and Audrey has jelly smeared on her face, these same women are speed-dialing Child Protective Services with complaints of neglect.
Even with the double-standard benefit, the downside of the joyous Daddy Boot Camp is the accompanying exhaustion, frustration, and relative insanity. Take Saturday morning, for example.
We left the house at 8:00 to go to the YMCA. There, the kids got to play in the KidZone while I ran 3.27 miles (note the "7"). Afterward, we came home, got cleaned up, and took my niece to work.
Then we took a trip to the post office, where the kids helped people toss their packages into the giant rotating hopper while I bought stamps. Total blast. Lots of smiles from the ladies.
Next, I told the kids we were going racing. We went to Home Depot and spent nearly an hour jumping from one riding lawn mower to another, making fake racecar noises and irritating all of the shoppers. Not a single tractor was sold, but there were nearly a dozen imaginary fiery crashes. The department manager asked if he could take our picture “to capture the moment,” he said. I’m sure it is now posted in the break room with a big sign above which reads: WARNING – THESE PEOPLE CAUSED DISMAL SALES IN LAWN AND GARDEN.
* The Dannemiller Clan: Happily Irritating Home Depot Sales Staff since 2011
When the great tractor race was over, the kids wanted to go to the zoo. Unfortunately, I had forgotten our zoo membership pass, to which the children replied, “mommy never forgets the zoo pass.” We added that to the long list of other items mommy never forgets, including: water bottles, hair clippies, Handi Wipes, crackers, ice packs, books, blankets, Band Aids, and Proof of Insurance cards.
Not to be deterred, I improvised. The ASPCA was having its regular dog adoption at PetsMart. So, we spent a half hour whipping the poor caged dogs into a frenzy. Then the kids went inside to “watch the sleeping goldfish at the bottom of the tank” and tap on the glass walls of every mouse, hamster, and ferret home in the place. All of the animals have since been prescribed Xanax to settle their nerves.
Afterward, we went to the park until Audrey announced to the entire playground that she had to pee, at which point, we ran to the car and drove to “Old McDonald’s” to use their restroom. Once inside, we consumed some burgers and fries before going home to enjoy ice cream. Though the kids were all hopped up on greasy food and frozen treats, they played together like angels. To reward them for their incredible, loving behavior, I offered to clean up their toys while they enjoyed lollipops at the kitchen table. It was only 2:00, but I already felt like it was 10:00pm. Exhausted. How does Gabby do this all the time? I wondered.
But it was a perfect day.
“Time for nap!” I called out.
There were grumblings, but they meandered back toward their bedrooms. Then Jake asked, “Daddy, do you know where my orange plane is?”
“No. I don’t, son.”
“I think it’s outside in the car.”
“I can get it later, Jake, but right now, it’s time for nap.”
“But I want it!” He said, his voice raising.
“Later, Jake. You don’t need it right now, because it’s time to rest.”
My four-year-old son started spinning around and flailing his arms as if he had just been set on fire and was trying to extinguish himself.
“But Daddy, That’s NOT FAIR! (crying) I’m NEVER going to listen to you! I’m NOT TAKING A NAP!”
Then came the stop, drop and roll. Plus screaming.
I remained calm, and spoke in a slow, low voice. “Jake. You need to get in bed. It’s time to rest.”
More flailing. I think I even heard “I hate you.”
“Jake. This is unacceptable. I’m going to give you one minute to calm down. Then I’ll be back.”
I left him in his room and walked down the hall. The whole time I was replaying my morning. The tractors. The animals. The ice cream. The candy. They give dads medals for stuff like that. And here I was, being berated by a four-year old. I couldn’t believe it. He was still screaming his head off. Kicking the door. I should have taken some deep breaths. Counted to ten.
But I didn’t.
Instead, I marched in his room, and through gritted teeth said in a very low voice. “Jake. Get. In. Bed Now.”
More kicking and screaming. I grabbed him like a sack of flour and stood him up on his feet.
“LISTEN TO ME!”
Who was this guy talking? Jake was, shall we say, surprised. I don’t get angry often. But it happens.
Then I did what all good parents do. I laid a guilt-trip on my four-year-old. The kid can hardly put on a pair of underpants without supervision, and here I was, playing psychological mind games.
“Jake. I took you to ride the tractors. We saw puppies. We went to the park. Ate burgers. Ate ice cream. Ate lollipops. Did you say ‘thank you?’ No. Now you’re kicking me? And screaming at me? How do you think that makes Daddy feel?” Then I pulled straight from the book, Overused Quotes of Parents by Hugh R. YourMom.
“If this is how you’re going to treat me, then maybe we just won’t go do fun things anymore.”
“Now get in bed!” I picked him up and plopped him on his mattress. He was no longer screaming, but there was lots of crying. It was not my proudest parenting moment. The yelling. The manipulation. The grabbing.
But in this case, it didn’t do any good. My kids don’t respond to anger. But if it didn’t work the first 46,000 times I tried it, that doesn’t prove anything. Better give it one more shot, but louder this time!
So the result was a crying kid and a guilty dad who wished he had made another choice. Don’t get me wrong. Kids should be respectful to their parents. And anger isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Heck, even Jesus got angry, right? But anger comes in two distinct varieties. Jesus always chose the right one. Me? I'm not so choosy.
The first variety is what I call Selfish Anger. Selfish Anger is the anger I feel when others don’t recognize my worth as a human being. When I’ve been wronged. It comes after I believe someone has “gotten the best of me.” When someone cuts me off in traffic. Or cuts in front of me in line. Or doesn’t say thank you when I give them a lollipop. This anger stems from the fact that I don’t believe people are treating me the way I deserve to be treated. A lack of respect. Don’t they know who I am?
What’s ironic about this kind of anger is that it tends to run counter to what God has taught me. In fact, it kinda' spits in the face of God. Indeed I’m worthy of respect, but my value doesn’t come from how others treat me, or how I am seen in the eyes of others. If someone treats me like royalty, or treats me like dirt, it doesn’t change the fact that God loves me just the same. I have worth because God made me. Flesh and bone. So all my selfish anger is wasted effort trying to regain something I never lost.
The second kind of anger I’ll call Selfless Anger. This is the anger you feel when people aren’t honoring the worth of others. This is the anger you feel when you see injustice. When people take advantage of the poor, or the sick, or the elderly. When people don’t respect the basic human rights of others. “It’s just not right!” you say to yourself. “Someone should do something!” It’s the anger you hear in Naravanan Krishnan’s voice of how he felt when he learned of the poverty just outside his door. If you don’t know who he is, you gotta’ see this video.
Everybody “gets the best of” Naravanan.
The sad part is, my Selfish Anger often trumps my Selfless Anger. My blood was boiling because my four-year-old threw a tantrum after I had given him ice cream. Yet, I’m only mildly miffed when I hear that the government is cutting home heating assistance for the poor, or that there are thousands of homeless in my own city.
What the heck is that?
I think I need to prioritize my anger, because when I think of all of the things recently that have made me mad, far too many of them are about protecting myself rather than protecting those who have no voice of their own.
So let that be my prayer today. When tantrums come, and insults fly, and others cut in line, may I simply let it go and show love. But when I see injustice, I pray for anger. The kind that motivates. The kind that heals. The kind that moves mountains.
Cause I want everyone to get the best of me.