Today I made one of my more grandiose errors as a father, but I also figured it out, so maybe I’m ahead of the game. I spend a lot of my time lately questioning whether or not I suck at this whole parenting thing. I mean, I have two living children and have kept them alive for a total of 6.5 years. So in some ways, I guess I’m a pretty incredible parent, right? But today? Today I realized I had made a huge mistake.
My son won’t jump in the pool. He’s taking swimming lessons and at this stage, one of the things he’s supposed to do in order to move forward to the next level and graduate out of salamander (we’ll talk later about the idiocy of these level names) is jump in a pool. Every Wednesday my son tells me that today is the day he’s going to jump in. And then every Wednesday when he comes back from swimming (his grandparents usually take him) he tells me that he didn’t jump in today but that he’s going to jump in next time. So today, I tried something new.
Bribery isn’t something that works well with my son but for some reason, I haven’t figured that out. I haven’t figured out much. They say that the definition of being crazy is when you repeat the same actions but expect different results. This is my parenting scheme in a nutshell. Just keep doing something that hasn’t ever worked and it will eventually work, right?
It turns out that children are not a war of attrition. You can’t just line up and fire volleys at each other until one of you falls down because it turns out that neither of you will fall down. But alas, today I tried bribery. I told my son, right before he went to go in the pool that if he jumped in, then when we were done, on the way home, I’d pick up some ice cream.
My son then spent 30 minutes trying with all of his might to jump into the water. And he couldn’t. And he cried and cried. And at first, I felt a little upset. I felt like my son had let me down. I mean, how hard could it really be to jump into the water? Did I mention that I can’t swim and that I’ve never jumped into the water in my entire life and that I’ve spent my entire life in paralyzing fear of the water? Why in the hell would I expect my son, who is FOUR, to do something that I, a grown-ass man, cannot? But the worst is yet to come.
My son screamed and cried in the locker room and on the pool deck. He screamed and cried that he couldn’t have ice cream, but moreover he cried out over and over again that he was sorry that he didn’t jump in. I told him over and over again that I didn’t want to talk about it because I wasn’t listening. He was going on and on and I wasn’t listening…because I’m apparently an asshole.
At the dinner table, he continued on crying, telling me over and over again that he was sorry that he hadn’t jumped into the pool and that he would do it next time in his next swimming class and that he was sorry and was I angry? And then I stopped being angry. And I got very sad. Because I was that dad. I was that dad that told his son he could do better when he simply couldn’t. I was that dad that told his son that he wasn’t trying hard enough when he was trying as hard as he possibly could. I was that dad.
So I looked at my son, and I wiped away his tears with the back of my hand and I told him that I wasn’t upset because he wouldn’t jump in the pool and that I was proud of him for trying so hard and that I was just upset that he was upset. It was the lowest I’ve felt in a long time, quickly followed by the highest I’ve been in a long time. I figured out that the thing holding my son back, causing him to flip out, causing him to scream and cry, was that he didn’t want to let down his father. And now I get to spend the rest of my life showing him how proud I am of him.