Did You Hear What I Said?

Years ago on a Saturday morning I was sitting in front of the television, working my remote control while my six-year-old son was in the kitchen working on his oatmeal (which he called “eatmeal”).  After a couple of minutes I caught him out of the corner of my eye hopping down from his seat and headed over to some cars on the floor.

Based on my years of experience as a parent, I knew he couldn’t have finished his breakfast that fast, even if he had used one of our big spoons.

“Hey, buddy,” I said, “make sure you eat all your oatmeal.”

There was no response.  He just kept on with his two-handed, two-car drag race.

I took a moment to decide on a channel, then spoke again with clearer direction: “Make sure you eat all your oatmeal before you play with those cars, buddy.”

Still nothing from him but revving engine sounds.

Well, that was it. I had asked two times, and he was clearly ignoring me. Time to demand some respect. From my cockpit seat, remote in hand like a king’s staff, I hollered, “Did you hear what I said, son? Finish your oatmeal!”

He looked up at me as if he had never heard a single word and replied, “I don’t want any more eatmeal. Did you hear what I said?”

Are you serious? I thought. Did I just? You little. Did I just hear what I thought I heard?

I stood up and pointed to the stairs and said, “Head up to your room right now, son!”

He looked up at me, stood up, put his head down and went upstairs without another word. As he got close to the top step I added, “I want you to think about what you just said.” He turned the corner and vanished down the hallway.

What the heck just happened? I swore I’d taught him better than that.

I sat on my throne for a few more minutes, stewing over how kids these days watch too much TV, learning sarcasm and lack of respect for their parents. Eventually the thought of him being up there alone, wondering where he and I stood, got to me. I love him. He was only a little boy. I still had plenty of time to reprogram what some Disney show might have taught him.

I headed up the stairs. Slowly, I opened his door and found him sitting on the edge of his bed.  I walked in and sat next him. His cheeks were still wet. He was staring down at his little hands.

My heart ached. I wanted to do this the right way, from ground zero. So I started with a simple question.

“Son, who taught you to talk like that to me?” Without hesitation he looked up at me and said with a soft voice, “You, Dad.”

My mind raced, searching for clues. Suddenly my own words echoed back at me: “Did you hear what I said?”

He was right. He was simply being a mirror of me.

I got down on my knees and hugged him while I tried to release the awful pain in my gut. I asked for his forgiveness and promised I would try to speak more kindly to him in the future. I also apologized for unfairly sending him to his room.

More than a decade has since gone by, but I’ve thought about that lesson more than a hundred times. I wish I could say I’ve been a perfect father ever since. I haven’t. Not even close. But since then I have stopped myself many times and asked, “Do you hear what you’re about to say?”

It’s a clue, a gift really, from a little boy sitting on the edge of his bed. I hope somehow, someday it comes in handy for you.

LLC

Bryan

It’s Your Fault

This week Jackie and I celebrate 24 years of marriage. That also means 24 years of trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Isn’t that what marriage really is? A continuous miniseries of “Let’s keep doing this,” or “Let’s never do that again.”

I admit, I’m the one with the short-term memory, so I usually cause the re-runs. I don’t know why I do it. For some reason when things get hard or stressful I tend to forget where we’re trying to go and point the finger in the wrong direction.

Know anyone else with that skill? I kind of hope I’m not the only one who’s got it mastered. I’m thinking of holding seminars. I mean, why spend time trying to work on myself when it’s so much easier to point out the faults in someone else?

Breaking the habit of finding fault, especially with the ones you love most, can be hard. So I’ve been working on a new approach. I call it It’s OK to Look for Faults. But it has just one rule, and that is to find only good faults. I haven’t mastered it yet, but here’s an example of the technique. (Sorry, Jackie. You weren’t in the room to ask permission.)

The next time tensions rise or you feel like turning on the fault factory, start looking for the good. So if I get upset because Jackie threw something away that I really wanted to keep around, I’m not allowed to leapfrog from missing my shirt to my car seat not being put back in the same spot to whatever else might bug me. Instead, I bust out a different list of faults until the urge to spiral out of control goes away. In my case, it might go something like this:

It’s your fault our family is always sending birthday cards and dropping off thank you notes.

It’s your fault I haven’t missed a belt loop in years.

It’s your fault I don’t walk out the door with smelly breath and contaminate the earth’s atmosphere. Gum freak.

It’s your fault I have a comfortable, peaceful home that smells nice.

It’s your fault we’ve got family pictures and photo books all over our house so we never forget what really matters.

It’s your fault our children’s school lunches are made and homework assignments get checked off. Wake up, honey!

It’s your fault I know the first name of the sweet mother trying to make ends meet that works at Chevron. And that she worked on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Talk about clueless.

It’s your fault our DVDs are in alphabetical order. Lazy.

It’s your fault I’ve gained nearly 40 pounds since 1989. You’re the one always making Sunday roast beef dinners, Café Rio burritos, french toast delight with kneaders syrup, dirty Diet Cokes, and burnt butter brownies. Not me.

Get the idea? Pointing out and focusing on the weakness in others is easy. It’s like hiking downhill. No resistance, and you can practically do it all day and tell yourself you’ve accomplished something.

Looking for and finding the good in others is a whole different kind of show. Up for the challenge? If not, well, it’s your fault.

LLC

Bryan