Saturday, September 25, 2010

Going to a Meeting

“Hello, my name is Mac, and I’m a Bossy Dad”

I need a twelve-step program for Bossy Dads. I realize now that it’s not something you ever get over. It’s one day at a time, with slips and recriminations along the way. Even on the days when you bite your tongue and agree that you’ve always dreamed of body piercings or backpacking in Pakistan’s SWAT Valley, you never lose the longing. If I could just find the right way to tell him, you think, he’d see the wisdom of my advice and avoid the mistakes I made, or the new ones he’s dreamed up that I didn’t have the imagination to make.

It’s hard to admit you have a problem. I only nag socially, you say to yourself. But then you notice that your children stop meeting your gaze when you come into the room. You ask them how they are and the most you ever get is “fine.”

Okay, they are your children, and they love you and know you love them, so it never gets too bad. They rarely call the police or try to have you committed. But the damage is there. And it can be more long-lasting than you think.

Conversations get shorter, even when they are going well. Hey, this is great, Dad, you can hear them thinking, Why don’t we quit before you start giving me advice. Those trips to the tennis court or the golf range become a little less frequent, as they hit their limit for swing-improvement instruction.

Or, gulp, they go away to college and realize they are free to be themselves and don’t seem to want to come home as often as you were hoping.

The discussions I’ve had with Nick about this are the freshest in my memory. He’s still young and feisty and likes to go toe to toe with me, meeting point with counter-point. I’m usually the one to say “uncle,” sometimes because he outlasts me, but as often because I realize he is right.
Nick and his sister, Ashley.

Over the years, in an effort to establish my loving bona fides, I must have reminded him a million times that his mom and I have been protecting him all his life, and even though we can see that he is nearly grown now, that he is a young man who must make his own decisions, it is hard nevertheless to stifle the reflex to keep him from playing in traffic. In one pitiful moment---I don’t think tears were actually streaming down my cheeks, but it was nearly that pathetic---I asked him why he always did what his mom suggests, while taking my ideas as the setup for a debating contest.

“Mom is more unalterable than you are,” he said.

Oh. What the heck does that mean? That I am reasonable and subject to being swayed by sound argument, while she is merely stubborn? No, I’m afraid not. It means she picks her shots. So that when she does weigh in, he knows she’s serious and not likely to be sweet-talked or filibustered out of her position.

Picking your shots (“nagging light,” I might call it) is tolerated better, apparently. Indeed, the implication was that guidance meted out so judiciously might even be appreciated in the long run.

I never saw myself as too bossy, but after all, who ever thinks he’s a drunk? So, I’m going to a meeting. I hope the other dads there won’t be jerks, because I’d hate to think of myself that way. I’ll bet most of them will be like me, fathers who took up telling their children what to do to keep them safe and never learned how to stop.

McCord Clayton

1 comment:

  1. I probably need to attend those meetings as well! Great piece.