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Daddy Do You See Me?
What They Really Need
As we begin the 20 minute drive home from school, my 6 year old, Miles starts, "Daddy...?" I know exactly what he's going to ask. It happens every time I pick the boys up. I try to hide my frown as I glance at him in the rearview mirror. "Yeah, buddy?" I call over my shoulder. His older brother, Jaden, shoots him a glance that says "Don't do it!". But, Miles blurts out, "When we get home can we play the Wii U!?", almost wincing as the last words escape his lips. Immediately I'm irritated and justifiably so. You see, we've been over this a thousand times. On school nights at daddy's house, we rarely play video games. There's just too much to do and not enough time before bed. Add to that the fact that Miles is obsessed with gaming and will ask me over and over and over, eroding my patience like a dripping faucet. I take a deep breath and reply, "we'll see". Thinking I had successfully appeased him for the moment, I return to my mental to do list and the rhythmic thump of the windshield wipers. I'm deciding what they should wear to school tomorrow when I hear, "Ummm... Daddy?", Miles jerks me back to reality, "does that mean... yes?"...I lost my cool. "MILES!" I told him not only was he not allowed to play the Wii when we got home, but he wasn't allowed to play with any electronics. I lectured him about repeatedly asking me and I complained about how he only cares about electronics. I went on and on and as my rage fizzled out, I glanced in my rearview mirror and realized I completely blew it. It was all over his face. Defeat.
We drove the remaining 10 minutes or so in relative silence. Jaden, true to his nature, tried to lighten the mood in the car by asking me questions about nimbus clouds and why the rain beads up on the windshield. I did my best to engage, but I kept glancing at Miles hoping to see light return to his face to wash away my regret. It didn't happen. I knew it wouldn't. What Miles really wanted was for me to see him. What I did was tear him down and make him feel bad about his passion. What did I teach him in that moment of my "justified" irritation? Maybe nothing at all, that would be the best case scenario. But, I may have taught him to fear irritating me. Or worse, I may have taught him that his desires don't matter. As we pulled onto our street, I glanced at that sad face in my rearview mirror and I said, "Hey buddy, I'm sorry for yelling at you." I went on to explain that he still couldn't play the Wii U that night, but I would play his Skylanders game with him Friday night. He smiled and said Ok. Jaden was smiling too. I breathed a sigh of relief.
Being a father has made me realize how selfish I am. Kids have a way of disrupting your life. They need stuff, they want stuff and it's never at a convenient time. My boys have a knack for waking up at 6:30am... on Saturdays. But, they didn't ask to be here. What I have learned from this situation and many others like it is that as a father I need to look beyond the surface and understand that in every interaction, my sons hearts are at stake. The way they view authority, themselves, and even God is largely shaped by their relationship with me. If I am a dismissive and quick to anger, they may grow to be timid and afraid of authority, or they may become tyrants themselves. If I don't allow them to have a voice, then they may believe that their voice doesn't matter. I've also learned that it is important to apologize to my kids when I mess up. My parents never apologized for anything. That is not a knock on them, they just didn't do it. But, we do make mistakes as parents and acknowledging those mistakes before our children gives us an opportunity to teach them how to recover from mistakes of their own.
That Friday night, we played the Wii U. We played Skylanders and Disney Infinity 2.0. Miles taught me how to do a few things. He is a very talented gamer. We had a blast! While playing video games on a Friday night doesn't make my top 10 list of things to do, it was absolutely the best thing I did that weekend. Me and my boys were connected. I traded my right to be irritated for Miles's need to be seen. It's a choice I will continue to make.