Be A Better Father

English: Hanukkah menorah, known also as Hanuk...

2 PM on a Tuesday afternoon and I am sitting on the couch in my office listening to a random mix of songs on iTunes. Gordon Lightfoot is singing If You Could Read My Mind but I keep thinking about the Edmund Fitzgerald and the land of the Burning River.

It reminds me of the road trips we used to take when I was a child. If I close my eyes I can see us piling into the station wagon and heading out for parts unknown. My parents are young and my dad is behind the wheel. I always sit directly behind him and spend the hours reading or staring out the window of the car wondering who lives in those houses and why they chose to live there.

Eventually my mom and my sisters will start singing and it will send me over the edge and I’ll start poking, pushing and or prodding my middle sister. The twins are too young to mess with and they cry, but not my middle sister. She is only two years younger but people sometimes ask if we are twins and it makes me angry. Those two years are important to me and I won’t let anyone take them from me.

I blink and I am the one behind the wheel but I am not driving the wagon. This time it is a minivan and the kids are fighting. Most of the time I my voice is pretty similar to what it sounds like here but not today. They have spent too much time bickering and I have had it. Too much is going on and I am spent.

Two warnings have been issued and ignored so now I bark at them “Chanukah is canceled!” The dark haired beauty says “you aren’t G-d, you can’t cancel it.” Her older brother says, “she is right dad, you are powerful, but not that powerful.”

I bite my tongue and refrain from letting the words I really want to say fly. I don’t tell them that I have spent an inordinate amount of time eating shit so that their lives are better. It is not my nature to try to guilt trip them into anything and I find myself growing angrier than I was. But this anger, it is not directed at them. I am frustrated with me.

So I tell them that they have each lost a gift and they immediately promise that they will try harder. I tell them that it is too late and that I am not kidding- sometimes I think that they aren’t grateful for what they have. There is silence and I wonder if that is my fault. Maybe if I was a better father I wouldn’t have to have this conversation.

Back in the station wagon my father is lecturing me about not picking on my sister and I am trying to explain that she wasn’t hurt. She is faking the tears like she always does because she knows that I will get in trouble. He hears her crying but he doesn’t see her smiling face- she knows that she has beaten me with this angle. It is infuriating to me and I am fighting not to hit her.

I know that I will really get into trouble for that but it is so unfair to get yelled at when she isn’t really hurt.

The dark haired beauty says that her brother is an idiot and tells him that if he wasn’t such a “genius” they wouldn’t have lost their gifts.” I look in the rear view mirror and make eye contact with him, “if you hit your sister you are going to be in more trouble than you are now.” She gives him a look that she must have inherited from her aunt and I watch him try to figure out his next move.

“Dad, she thinks you are stupid. She is not really crying!” I have told him this before and done my best to make my case but it is not working. I didn’t hit my sister but I accidentally bumped into her and dad doesn’t believe it was an accident. “You are not allowed to throw your weight around. Maybe I haven’t made myself clear, but I will find a way to impress how serious this is upon you.”

The kids and I are walking into the house and I watch as the dark haired beauty gets knocked into the wall. I am close enough to reach out and prevent her from hitting it as hard as she would have but the tears start immediately.

I sit the children down on the couch and we have a long talk about what happened and what won’t happen again in the future. As a father I am furious with my children. Why can’t they just get along for a few minutes. But there is also a part of me that remembers the frustration I felt when the tears would come from my sister and thus a piece of the brother rallies for the son.

And so I turn and look at the dark haired beauty and explain that neither one of them are to ever lay their hands upon each other, adding that I always know when tears are real and when they are false.

As I walk towards the bedroom I hear them begin talking about how they can earn back their Chanukah gifts and I smile. I still want to work on their gratitude but my own is growing because I know that if they are talking like this I must have done something right. It is not all out war all day long.

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  1. Elena Patrice December 27, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    Hello Jack!!

    Damn, you just wrote about my childhood! 😉 I was the youngest; the one always beaten, the big loser in the “tasting game” and the one with the biggest adult issues today. 😉

    I love this post because you speak to all of us … we are right there with you!



  2. Absence of Alternatives December 14, 2011 at 10:29 pm

    Love this post. My kids behave as if they hate each other. Like mortal enemies. Once they were so mean to each other, I was absolutely incensed. Not even 5 minutes later, they were a-ok again leaving me behind still trapped in my own wrath. My teenage son said, “Mom. We are fine now. You are the one that’s now crabby.” Ugh.

    p.s. btw, your blog looks so professional looking now! WOW! And you still talk to me. 🙂

    • Jack December 15, 2011 at 11:22 am

      I am still the same guy I always was, just a cleaner blog. Will probably make more changes to it too.

      Kids are good about switching gears, mine do the same things you described yours doing.

  3. Bill Dorman December 14, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    Now, when people ask if are you twins it is your sister who gets mad…….

    My two sons constantly picked at each other and it would drive us crazy; they now live we each other, go figure, huh?

    I grew up with 3 sisters and got away w/ murder; I milked it for all it was worth.

    We had a station wagon too; those were the days.

    • Jack December 14, 2011 at 3:54 pm

      Yep, little sister turned 40 this year and is none too pleased. Actually she has done ok with it, but she has her moments.

      You have three sisters? No wonder we get along. You are as disturbed as I am. 😉

  4. Chloe December 14, 2011 at 5:42 am

    I’ve always thought that there is some biological reason for siblings to act this way towards one another, like it prevents incest or something. That made me feel better because then the fighting wasn’t about my parenting or them as people; it’s biology.

    I like the way you sat them both down and held them both responsible for their behavior. This is how I handled that shit with my kids and I think it was effective.

    I simply refused to be the referee between the two of them as much as possible. They both, the victim and the perpetrator–and sometimes it isn’t easy to figure out who is who in sibling warfare–received some punishment for fighting with each other.

    Sometimes I used the wisdom of Solomon–like you have done–and cut the baby–whatever was the object of their warfare–into two unusable pieces.

    My children still argued, but they weren’t as keen on bringing it to me.

    • Jack December 14, 2011 at 3:52 pm

      You are absolutely right about the challenge of figuring who did what to whom and when.

      I know from my time as a kid it was often pretty convoluted. I am not real interested in taking time to figure it out either.

      It is usually easier to make it clear that if they have to take it to me they probably won’t like the outcome.

      Probably not all that different than what you did.

  5. Mrs. LIAYF December 13, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    Lovely and poinant post! I remember the same fights with my sister – we were also 2 years apart. We don’t have a 2nd child yet, but I have already given the “I know what fake tears look like” speech to Lukas when he doesn’t get what he wants. I’m sure I will have to drag it out again several more times before he’s fully grown.

    p.s. Thanks for your comments on Jim’s post about private school. It’s a tough decision to make, but we are grateful that the choice mainly involves a bit of paperwork and belt tightening. It at least means we have a choice.

    • Jack December 13, 2011 at 11:38 pm

      I have three younger sisters. The twins are 5 years younger than I am and as I mentioned middle sister is two.

      It was almost always them against me, fake tears and all. 🙂

      I was happy to share my thoughts on Jim’s post. Tonight we had the winter performance at the school. I loved it.

      The school has been absolutely wonderful but not cheap. It is one of the best investments we have made into their future, but it has been tough.

      My oldest is on the verge of middle school and I am torn about sending him to public school. Haven’t made that decision yet, but having seen what is possible it has become much harder.

      Anyway, the most important thing is having parents who are involved and Lukas clearly has that.

  6. Bruce Sallan December 13, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    Channukah is “late” this year…meaning it overlaps with Xmas…

    Love Gordon Lightfoot! My VERY FIRST date was Peter Paul and Mary with GL as the opening act!

    • Jack December 13, 2011 at 11:33 pm

      Nah, Chanukah starts on the same date it always does, the 25th of Kislev.

      That concert sounds like it was pretty good. Do you remember whether you liked it or not?

  7. Frume Sarah December 13, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    Oh yes…those long drives in the station wagon. “Stop reading and watch the scenery.” “But Ma, it’s the southwest. The scenery hasn’t changed in 300 miles.”

    I love how perfectly you captured the then-and-now.

    I’ve threatened with canceling Chanukah too. Fortunately, due to professional reasons, my kids actually believe that I can make it happen.


    • Jack December 13, 2011 at 11:31 pm

      My kids sometimes ask why I didn’t go to rabbinic school. I wonder if I had if I would have been able to use the professional angle. Hmm…

      I remember the “look at the scenery” line from my mom too. Sometimes I am sorry my kids will never have that station wagon experience.

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