My father ruled by intimidation.
He was an imposing man with a quick temper. When you were in trouble, you made sure you went by him fast enough to catch the inevitable swat on the upswing. When he yelled, there was no warning. Like a volcano, you were never quite sure when he was going to explode.
I’ve spent my life trying not to be like my father. I always kept my temper under control. My co-workers mentioned one day that they had never seen me get mad, and I told them I couldn’t remember the last time I had yelled at someone. And one of the women said, “That’s because he doesn’t have kids…”
That was then.
Now I have a healthy, sweet, and ridiculously happy 2 year old. My wife and I tell people all the time how lucky we are to have such a drama-free child. Mind you, he is 2, so hearing “No!” elicits whines and sometimes crocodile tears, but in general, he is silly, happy, and cry-free the majority of the time.
He picked up something that had fallen on to the floor, and I asked him to give it to me. But he threw it back on to the floor. So I spoke his name again, and asked him to pick it up and give it to me. He picked it up and I spoke his name again, and asked for it again. And he threw it down on the ground again, and started to walk away. I called him again, and he stopped, looked down at the item, smiled, and ran away.
I yelled his name, but it wasn’t the voice he was used to hearing. This time, my father’s voice yelled his name. Big. Booming. Ground-shaking.
And just like when my father exploded, it scared him so much that he jumped.
He came running toward me, arms out-stretched, crying. Now my son is not a cuddle-bug, so this was huge. I picked him up and he latched on, put his head on my shoulder, and he soaked my shoulder with his very real tears.
And I died a little inside.
I was always afraid of my Dad, and I don’t want my son to be afraid of me. I also never ran to my father for comfort. He wasn’t a warm man, and it wasn’t a safe place. In contrast, even when I did something to make my mom spank me, I tried to console myself crying in her arms.
We held onto each other for a long time. I ran my hand up and down his back. Played with his hair as he sobbed onto my shoulder. When he finally stopped, I put him in front of me and said, “I’m sorry I yelled at you”.
Sorrier than I can put into words…