Fathering, Violence Prevention And Other Life Lessons
If you’ve read my very first blog, you’ll understand when I say that had my boy been born when I was in my 30’s, his life lessons would have been polar opposite than those he was born to when in my very early 40s, and my kid, along with his future familial entourage, would have unfortunately suffered greatly because of it.
Life lessons for kids come in 2 ways:
1. What we say to them.
2. What we do, how we act and how we react to life as they observe us.
They learn far, far more from the latter than the prior.
I can’t imagine him having to have dealt with my misdirected anger for longer than he already had as I was still drowning in depression for the first 5 years of his life, and it pains me beyond words that I can see the effects in which my behaviours around him had on him and his development back then. Things like punching walls, yelling in anger, smashing electrical equipment that didn’t work to my satisfaction or desired speed, slamming doors, cursing in anger out loud and the like whenever a surge of rage would hit me.
For instance, I’ll never forget his face the day he was next to me, and I was trying to load the computer for music for him to sleep to. It was past his bedtime already and I was tired, impatient and cranky though doing my best not to show it at this point and the computer was taking its usual minute or 2 to load up but it wasn’t fast enough for me. His mom and I hadn’t been seeing eye to eye, and I could hear her from the other room shouting out a bunch of things she wanted to make sure I got done prior to putting him to bed.
What I perceived as her nagging (she wasn’t, she was genuinely concerned about said things, it was her commanding tone that got to me) along with the computer not loading and my kid asking me question after question after question as kids his age do, I finally snapped and smashed the keyboard hard with a hammer fist yelling “FUCKING PIECE OF SHIT COMPUTER!” or something along those lines.
My boy froze. The look of fear in his eyes crushed me then and there. Just fucking gutted me. So, I immediately explained to him while profusely apologizing, that it wasn’t him I was mad at, that I was just tired and cranky, that everything is ok, while I hugged him, and he began to tear and asked me why I had just done that.
What a lesson to teach a 2-year-old.
Even if not directed at him or his mom, being in any environment with family members or friends who road or home rage frequently will cause anxiety disorders to develop after years of regular exposure (and other similar destructive behaviours) to those regularly exposed. It’s not the occasional outbursts that do harm, after all, we’re all human and have breaking moments, long as we take accountability, apologise sincerely and we genuinely work our best in not letting it happen again, we’re good; but - misdirected anger is more than an occasional outburst, road and home rage are traumatic, oppressed and perpetual behavioral issues that are passed down generation after generation to our children and these behaviours, whether knowing or unknowing, are both destructive and abusive to anyone regularly exposed to such behaviour.
Thankfully, I caught myself and after I profusely apologized to my boy, I promised him that I would do my absolute best to never react that way again in his presence (knowing full well I would because though I was honest with him, to be honest with myself is to know that I couldn’t just change on a whim just like that and so I explained it to him) I had the knowledge, and knowing is indeed half the battle (thanks GI Joe) but applying said knowledge, well…. That is the other half and applying is not as easy as it comes with mistakes, trial and error, failing and fixing, rinsing and repeating some until the good habits override the bad ones and the undesirable behaviours are either eradicated or under our control.
The way I see it, and what helped me and my neurodivergent brain was the fact that they were My behaviours, My depression, My problems - and not the other way around. Yeah, see? They belonged to me. I didn’t belong to them. And since they were mine and I wasn’t their bitch any longer, I enslaved them to my advantage. I got them under my boot now, see? Doesn’t mean they don’t rebel or have a mutiny every once in a blue ass moon now, does it? No. But when they do, I’m ready for them because I know them well and THEY. ARE. MINE.
That one I figured out by myself, so I told my kid I was probably gonna fail and fuck up some along the way, but it was really important for him to call me out on it every single time I did, and he did, and when he does, it immediately snaps me out of my funk no matter how heavy or dark because my love for him and my wife are stronger than my personal demons.
Doing this involved him (and Pam of course) in both understanding my predicaments, strengths and medical limitations as well as being a part of helping me become both a better person, teacher and more importantly, father and husband.
I thought it was important for my child to know his father. I don’t believe that hiding things from him about me or my past or my life in general is beneficial in any way. So, as I learned more about my predicaments, I shared them with him, I told him I have brain injuries which can sometimes cause me to become impatient, grumpy, forgetful, distracted or even aggressive and that even though I was allowed to feel that way, I certainly wasn’t allowed to take it out on him or those I loved.
I told him that if I acted that way, to tell me I as soon as possible and that I would immediately stop. And he has. And I have with apologies and thanks. If certain things he asks or certain aspects of my past are too much for his age I simply tell him that, I tell him I’ll answer such questions later in life when he’ll understand them better as he’s too young at this stage for the answers.
I also told him in the spirit of both open, honest communication between us along with healthy boundary settings that if I (or anyone for that matter) ever say or do anything that hurts or upsets him whether serious or in jest, to immediately let me know and I would instantly stop saying or doing whatever I was doing as my goal, as his father, is never, ever to hurt or upset him as I love him with all my being. And if someone didn’t respect such requests (regardless of who they may be, family, friend, acquaintance or stranger) that this wasn’t a bad, but revealing thing as they have revealed themselves to be someone who doesn’t care about you.
It was important for me to tell him that even when I say No to him for certain things, the No is always, always with love and with his best interest at heart even if it doesn’t seem that way in the present moment.
The trust I built with him makes it much easier for him to accept such answers because he knows I would never lie to him as he is my boy and he knows and more importantly, feels the love I have for him making my saying ‘No’ to him rarely ever met with any kind of negation but with perhaps disappointed understanding, as he still is a child.
Of course, I also went on to explain that I would never say ‘No’ to him unless I had a valid reason to say No, and that I would always explain said reasons to him in a logical way he could understand at whatever age he was or is. I would never, ever respond with things like “Because I’m your father and I said so” as I have found that to be belittling and teaches the child that all authority figures aren’t to be questioned because they’re authority figures. This type of reply also creates trust issues along with unanswered frustrations that eventually fester into misdirected anger and rage. The last thing I want to help develop in my child is triggers for misdirected anger and the victim mind set. Nor do I want to teach him to lie to protect himself.
I’ve stopped punishing my child since he was 5. Instead, we talk when he misbehaves or makes mistakes. After all, a child’s brain isn’t fully developed until they reach their early 20’s and there’s only so much we can expect them to understand after being on this planet for only a few months or years. They are primarily still biologically reactive beings. Shit most adults don’t have it figured out and they yell and scream at their children as if they should have.
My kid’s not afraid of me and that is critical to me as raising a child in fear is traumatic and unhealthy for the brain’s development. Respect and fear are 2 different things. This approach and open communication are helping my child grow with a much more assertive and confident view of both himself and the world around him as he has learned to set proper boundaries, developed accountability, learned how to speak his mind and question things without fear of repercussion, to trust his own intuition which is developing wonderfully much to my thrill as both his father and self defense teacher.
He will never get to the point of having perpetual road or home rage. He will never be an abusive teen or adult. His understanding of who his parents are and were before he was born, where he comes from, why we are the way we are (explained to him in age-appropriate ways of course) along with those of mental health issues, trauma and its effects, antisocial personality behavioural red flags and their origins, what constitutes green flags, a good person having a bad day and a bad or sick person and the like makes him both a much more understanding human being less likely to become an aggressor or target in both social and familial environments.
Life lessons begin at home. From my experiences, research and personal understanding and assuming love and empathy are the leading forces; they begin with self awareness, followed by age-appropriate honesty, accountability and open communication. Live, learn, and fix your mistakes along the way.