Parenting has taught me a lot about dealing with things I'd rather not deal with. I’ve been forced to breathe deeply and make the call to the doctor at three in the morning: um, my daughter won’t stop crying, and when the doctor asks why she’s crying, I’ve had to confess, well I kinda dropped her today.
That never feels good to admit to.
Or I’ve had to clench my mouth shut tightly and just let my daughter have her feelings, be disappointed, resist the urge to placate her, to try to “make” her feel better by saying something inane like, well your little ten year old friend is a
Definitely, not good parental role modeling.
I’ve also learned to deal with larger, seemingly inhuman bureaucratic systems such as the school system with all its rules and policies that punish children for their parents’ choice or responsibilities. No, I don’t think it’s fair that my seventh grader gets an F in classes because I took her on a trip to see a sick relative. I’ve learned to face a police and justice system that views children as criminals first and people second.
Parenting has shown me that both the little things and big things in life can be sometimes daunting to face. As the saying goes, shit ain’t easy. Life is messy. People, messy. Friendship is work and commitment as well as fun and pleasurable. Just like parenting.
Sometimes I do wish I could just ignore things, overlook stuff I don’t really want to face, pretend I just didn’t know. Just go on with my everyday routine.
Parenting, however, has also demonstrated that there are the choices we need to make between letting some things slide while focusing on others.
My daughter’s arriving home ten minutes late after school might be ok now and then. I can raise an eyebrow and shrug off her, what, the bus was late, exasperated remark when I ask why she’s not on time. Because when she’s out at night and forgets to call when I explicitly explained that I expected her to, that ain’t something you can let slide. It’s something you have to address, and it’s difficult to hold her to the agreed upon consequences. It’s painful to hear her anger, her frustration, to be the target of her unmitigated teenage rage. And that shit’s scary.
So parenting has taught me how to stand firm and also that some things are negotiable, that there’s a balance between holding your child accountable and creating transparency in your agreements.
Let me stop stalling.
A friend of mine was arrested for domestic violence. There’s a story there. There are reasons for his anger and even empathy around the whole situation: towards him, towards his partner. The whole affair is sad. It’s painful. In the end, perhaps it will all be for the best for both of them and their kids.
But there is no excuse for violence in a relationship.
The crisis is over. She’s moved out of their home. They have a routine set up. Things are almost back to normal. People in my circle of friends are even joking about it.
And that is what bothers me, what makes me uncomfortable.
I started to ask around: what is my role? How do I address this with my daughters? How to be a true friend?
I don’t want to be the one to constantly bring it up every time I see him, but I also don’t want a ‘business as usual’ type friendship, a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ relationship because that is so much easier: if I don’t know about it, I guess I don’t have to make any tough choices.
I remember when the Chris Brown and Rhianna incident occurred. I immediately talked to my kids about it, especially my youngest daughter who was very into both of them. I asked how they felt about hearing the news. I didn’t want to let this opportunity slip: a chance to address the unacceptability of domestic violence, to establish a clear ‘zero-tolerance’ policy. Some things can slide; physical and emotional abuse can’t.
Chris Brown was ostracized; we as a family severed ties with him and his music. And the cool thing is most of the population did as well. His musical career seems to be over.
But what to do with my friend?
Soon after all this happened, I spoke with another friend of mine, a woman, a person who had been in an abusive relationship in the past, and she gave me some advice I hold dearly now. She said when she was going through it, that she wished people would have done something, anything. She looked at me and stated: sometimes doing the wrong thing is better than doing nothing.
I understood immediately that that was why I was so uncomfortable. I could see how easy doing nothing could have been. Denial is powerful. But as parenting has taught me some things can’t slide and so sometimes you just gotta grin and bear it. You have to face it.
I want to thank my kids for making me learn this lesson.
I knew I needed to talk to him before he moved off the block, so one night when he came over to borrow something, I did.
We stood out on my stoop, and we talked. First I expressed my anger and disappointment. Then I expressed my dilemma. I told him I knew it would be work, but that I wanted to be the kind of friend who is wiling to both stand up for someone and to hold them accountable. I expressed my concerns about how he was taking responsibility for his actions.
I did however acknowledge that I had no answers, only questions. But I told him I’m willing to struggle to find those answers with him, together.
We hugged, and he left.
A few days later, I raised the subject again with my daughters and my twenty-year-old son who was visiting. We all had talked about it here and there, and I know they have heard me and their mother and other friends talking about the incident. Arguing over it. Gossiping about it. In fact, my youngest daughter and I saw the cop cars in front of their house when it happened and I said to her almost in jest, I hope that’s not what I think it is. I cringe thinking about how uncritical a statement that is in regards to domestic abuse. I feel like I should apologize to her over my seeming ambivalence.
So we were all sitting around the table, my two daughters and my son eating dinner. I didn’t have a script or a point, I just wanted to be honest with them. I confessed, I am angry that I don’t know what to do or say. I feel like a hypocrite singing that song about Chris Brown needing to get his ass kicked after what he did, and yet when it happens on my street I’m at a loss as to what I should do. Just because I’m a friend with someone doesn’t mean they’re not accountable, you know.
You know it’s not your fault dad, my youngest says, like I’m acting foolish.
Getting chastised by your kids is another thing you learn how to deal with from parenting.
I know, I said, I just don’t want to sweep this under the rug. Domestic violence whether it’s emotional or physical is never ok. No matter what.
I was looking at my two daughters like I’m telling them that they should never stand for it, when I realized my son was sitting right there. Looking at me. I looked at him.
I realized I haven’t had a conversation like this in a while, talking about sex education was one thing, talking domestic violence another.
My son shook his head up and down slowly.
I know dad, he said I know, and he looked me in the eye, that shit is totally fucked up.
And he meant it.
It was one of the most reassuring moments in my life. I realize then that what had also been bothering me was talking with my son about it. It’s strange to love this young person so much, and for years feeling like I could control his actions. Now he stands taller than me, muscular, lean, a man, and I have no control over anything anymore in his life (well except for kicking in money for his rent), and yet I still have such expectations of him. And he may let me down in the future, may make mistakes in relationships. But one thing I think he knows is that domestic abuse is a line you don’t cross.
Hearing him say that with such conviction, without equivocation in front of his sisters was a profound moment for me.
Thank you, I said.
And we all kind of went on to other things.
As the weeks pass, I bring it up with my daughters now and then. My middle child now has a boyfriend. And I see how quickly I will have no control in her life too. It’s hard to let go. But I’m gonna do it. With love and with encouragement and with trust.
They taught me that.
This issue of Rad Dad is dedicated to all those who are victims of violence: at the hands of the police, of bullies, of their own family.
I promise you I will never look the other way.
I promise you I will do something whether it’s the right thing or not at the time.
I promise. I will.