I owe you an apology.
Today was rough for me. The details are not really important; suffice it to say that I struggled with a number of things throughout the day. I struggled so much, in fact, that I apparently did a very poor job of hiding the anger and frustration that I was feeling. I say “apparently” because a number of coworkers asked me how I was doing and what was wrong. Keeping a calm exterior, regardless of how I’m feeling inside, is a skill at which I’m usually fairly adept,1 so I think I caught my peers somewhat off guard when my fingers kept drumming on my desk and when I kept getting up to wander around the room or down the hallway to the conference table. The usually light-hearted quips for which I’ve become known were nowhere to be found. Half-smiles and annoyed sarcasm had taken their place and would not give up their new positions. I was still fairly quiet, as I usually am, but my pursed lips and constant fidgeting hinted at the discomfort I was feeling inside.
By the time I got home, I was wound up and spent, hyper and drained. Even the few genuine laughs I had managed while listening to a podcast on the way home had done little to truly relax the stress my body had accumulated through the day. In short, I was in no state of mind to be a good father.
I hope you don’t misunderstand me; I was happy to see you when I got home. I’m always happy to see you when I get home. Whether you totally ignore me when I open the door because you’re so engrossed in whatever toys you’re playing with or whether you’re waiting in the hallway for me to come off the elevator,2 you always make me smile. You could be running around in your underwear, throwing your toys across the room and about to unleash the mother of all tantrums and I’ll still smile when I walk in.
I don’t even think there was anything remarkable about the apartment when I got home tonight. Some of your toys were spread out in the living room, you were mostly clothed and your mom, being the saint that she is, had finished making dinner. You came running over when I opened the door and said, “Hi!” You held the vowel a bit and your tone dropped at the end of the word, as though you were trying to mimic my exact inflections when I say hi to you when I come home. I smiled, returned the greeting and put away my coat and bag. We all sat down for dinner and we ate together, though your mother and I stayed at the table a bit longer than you did. When the meal was finished, I brought you into the bathroom to bathe you and get you ready for bed.
You’re weird about your bath. There was a time when bathing you was purely my domain. I missed so much time with you while I was at work that bath time became one of my chances to reconnect with you and find out all the mischief you caused during the day. Then, at some point, you suddenly decided that bath time was not always going to be straightforward. Sometimes you were going to brush your teeth and sometimes you weren’t. Sometimes you were going to listen to me and let me wash away the dirt and sweat that comes from a hard day of playing at home and at school and sometimes you would refuse to switch positions or sit still for me to rub in the shampoo. Sometimes you would start screaming until your mom came in to give the bath instead.
Tonight was a night where you let me bathe you but you didn’t feel like listening right away. You felt like playing. You wanted to sit or stand or lie down all on your own terms and it did not matter to you whether I was trying to brush your teeth or wash your body or dry your hair after you’d come out. And I, having dealt with many situations throughout the day that were out of my control, was not going to allow you to add “parenting” to that list. So I spoke sternly at you, I yelled when you didn’t move the way I wanted you to and I tossed books onto the bed without asking you what you wanted to read. I could hear the voice in my head telling me the entire time that it was silly for me to be getting so upset with you. I knew you were just trying to play with me and that you have a lot of energy because – oh right! – you’re a toddler. I knew that it was no use for me to get so angry and that I should have stepped back, taken a deep breath and tried to approach you differently. But I kept yelling because I was frustrated and stubborn and I was going to exert my will over something today, damn it.
So tonight I failed you. You deserved better from me and I didn’t deliver. I needed to do a better job of separating my frustrations about work from my ability to be emotionally available for you. I should not have let my external stress jeopardize my opportunity to enjoy some quality dad-son bonding time with you.
Fortunately for me, one of the nice things about being a parent3 is that every day is a new chance to do things better than the day before. You’re also young, so the odds are that you won’t remember one random night when I yelled at you for not opening your mouth wide enough so I could brush your teeth. And considering the way I felt about how I spoke to you tonight, that’s actually a pretty nice consolation prize.
So I’m sorry for the way I acted tonight. I can’t promise I won’t make the same mistake again, but I do promise to work harder to avoid getting into that situation. Either way, I hope you remember that, no matter what I say or how foolishly I act, I promise that I will always love you, I will always be there for you and I will always be happy to see you when I get home from work.
1. Believe it or not, this is not always a good thing. In social work, it usually is because it’s usually better to portray impartiality. In relationships, though, it has its drawbacks, like your partner not being able to have any clue what you’re thinking or feeling. And, since the strongest relationships are supposed to be built on communication, it’s helpful for the other person to know what’s going through your head.↩
2. The first case is rare. You usually hear my key in the door and come running before I’ve even made it inside.↩
3. This is applicable to just about any title. Parent, spouse, co-worker, sibling, etc.↩