New Tricks

Far from a testament to progenitorial prowess, this site has instead been a useful if painful chronicle of a floundering father. If fatherhood is the Petries’ living room, I’ve managed to stumble over most of the footstools.

But I’ve learned a few things.

Last Sunday was a crash day. Kelly’s play had finished the previous night, and we all were in desperate need of snuggleness. Ian had an especially rough few weeks, being neglected by his parents in favor of rushed rehearsal schedules and later-night dinners. He took it in stride, but made his feelings quite clear by doing uncanny impersonations of a barnacle.

In lieu of Ian’s afternoon nap, we decided to huddle under a blanket on the couch, drinking tea and watching a movie together. Our intentions were good, but there’s a reason Ian takes naps.

That evening Ian asked if he could play a video game. Who am I to argue with a four-year-old? But when the game proved too difficult, he asked me to ‘help’. Then complained that I was playing. Then asked me to help. Then complained that I was playing. Then asked me to help. The complained that I was turning off the game, walking out of the room, and starting his bath.

The latter quickly degraded into an incoherent rage of spittle and tiny fists. He was tired, fragile, and at the end of his tether. I don’t have a good history with Ian’s tantrums. My patience is thin by default, and my son is very good at ripping it to shreds. Logic plays no part, and I don’t stop to think of the reasons behind his behavior. I’m too focused on the noise, pain, and my own frustration. So I react, usually by throwing my hands in the air and asking Kelly to step in.

I thought of this as I carried Ian, screaming, to the bathroom. I was calm, reserved. I didn’t yell, or scowl, or threaten, or dump him on the naughty step. I knew he was exhausted and angry, and I understood why.

His fists were locked on his pants as I tried to get him undressed. He held his elbows at his sides, and he quickly grabbed the bottom of his shirt whenever I managed to pull it above his head. His face was red, and he was coughing from the strain of yelling in my face. Ty Pennington in Scobby-Doo underwear. He flailed and threw himself to the ground.

Kelly started walking from the kitchen, and I caught her eye. ‘No, I’m okay. I’ve got him.’ And I said it without a trace of martyrdom. I meant it. I wasn’t dealing with Ian out of obligation. I knew my son needed help beyond his means.

I knew he needed his father.

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