Sometimes apologizing to my daughters in easy, almost meaningless. “I’m sorry we’re out of orange juice. Now eat your breakfast.” The words are virtually empty and function as grease to keep us moving on schedule or slide over a minor disappointment. “I’m sorry your notebook got all messed up. We can get a new one tomorrow.” There are other times, though, when genuine repentance is called for but I’m silent.
My oldest daughter was recently upset with me for something I’d written about her. Rather than listen to her feelings, I tried to convince her she was wrong, that what I’d done was correct and justified, that she was being oversensitive. This accomplished nothing except to escalate the situation and push us towards open conflict.
Why couldn’t I hear what she was trying to tell me, that she felt embarrassed and hurt? Pride? Ego? Self-importance? All of the above? Yes. There’s a lot of self-esteem wrapped up in being a dad. I want to be a great father, sensitive, wise, perfect in every way. I want to be a strong dad, wielding authority judiciously and with benevolence. Of course, sometimes I get it wrong.
At the best of times, apologizing can be hard to do. Is this a guy thing? Can I blame my defensiveness on that pesky “Y” chromosome? Is my inability to spit out my mea culpa somehow tied to my masculinity? It’d be nice to think so, but when it comes to my kids, I really believe it’s about being a parent. Apologizing is an acknowledgement, clearly and in all capital letters, that I have failed at something, screwed up, that I’m not perfect.
One good defense is to blame someone else for my shortcomings. I remember a moment in the car, a few years ago, my younger daughter and I started arguing when I asked her to do something — I can’t even remember what it was about. I got frustrated and felt trapped and tense and I just needed her to cooperate. Well, I lost it. I really screamed at her and she looked at me, frightened, and started to cry. The first words out of my mouth were, “I’m sorry, but you were making me…” That was no apology, I was trying to blame her for my behavior.
I could see, looking at her, that I was diminished in her eyes and I felt so, so small.
The irony is that if I worry too much about being Superdad then my cape is more likely to get dirty and torn. By setting aside my ego, really listening to my daughters, admitting my mistakes, I’m actually a better parent. A fallible father, to be sure, but more genuine, honest and human.
Back in that car, I was able to pull over, turn to my daughter and say I was sorry for yelling at her, that I was wrong for what I did. And with my older daughter last week, I was able to catch myself before I really blew it and apologize for what I’d written and how it had made her feel. Both my girls have seen me humbled, imperfect and that’s alright. Really, the important lesson is that we all screw up. Take responsibility and ask for forgiveness, because we’re all human, even dads.