Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Loser Dad

Being a good or bad parent is hard to judge on a day-to-day basis. Often, it's not until your child successfully finishes therapy as an adult that the full verdict can be rendered.

Nonetheless, every now and then you engage in a symbolic act of parenting that provides a hint of how you are doing. For example, throwing a baseball around with your son is an iconic act of a good dad. Even if you throw balls at your son’s head during off days, you can always point to the day when you were out on the lawn playing catch as evidence that you were a good dad, at least that one time.

These don’t have to be public acts, they just have to be iconic. For instance, parents who have to be woken up by their children so they can get to school on time is an iconic bad parent moment. Every movie that ever depicted a bad parent has a scene where the responsible kid has to wake up the irresponsbile parent.

Why do I mention this? Because I have gotten into the habit of having my son wake me up so he can get to school on time. Regardless of how well I do on most days, this iconic bad daddy moment keeps happening. That makes me a loser dad.

In my defense, my wife and I have clearly defined morning roles: shepherding and chauffeuring. The shepherd’s job is to get the kids moving in the morning and deliver them to the doorstep of our house in time for school. At that point, the shepherd's job is finished, and it is the chauffeur's job to shuttle the kids from our door to their respective schools. My wife is the Shepard, and I am the Chauffeur. I’m not a morning person and one of the (only) perks of being a writer-dad is that I don’t have to be at work at any certain time (I can feel bad about my writing anytime of the day). Because of this arrangement, I technically only need 2 minutes from the time I wake up to the time I need be a “responsible” parent.

But my son’s school starts unreasonable early, in my opinion, and we have to leave at 7:30. To me, this means I need to wake up at 7:25. However, he wants to get there early and play with friends, so he is often in my room at 7:10, trying to rouse me.

A few nights ago he begged me to wake up earlier, so he can get to school earlier. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a bad daddy movie, but this nonetheless gave me a vague sense of discomfort. An alarm was ringing, but I could quite place what is was. Nonetheless, I decided to do better. It lasted one day, until this morning, when he had to wake me up again. I am a loser dad.

I’m a good dad in a lot of ways. I succeed with many other iconic dad moments. I do play catch with my son. I attend all my daughters’ plays. I taught all my kids how to ride bikes (hint: lean the bike into the direction it is falling). My kids aren't the ones whose parents forget to pick them up. I don't yell at them in public for failing in sports. I don’t send them down to the liquor store to buy cigarettes for me. I don’t even yell at them not to block the TV, unless it is really important.

Still, it sucks to be a loser dad for any of the iconic moments. Since my internal alarm isn't working so well, I’m going to start setting my actual alarm clock.


lls said...

Often, it is not until your child successfully finishes therapy as an adult that the full verdict can be rendered.

This reminded me of an interview I once saw with an actress whose name slips my mind at the moment. When asked how it was to raise children as a famous parent, she replied, "The same as anyone--we do the best we can and hope we've saved enough for their therapy."

PG said...

Dan, if you were a loser dad you wouldn't even be pondering the possibility.

Ernie always told me all his trauma was because I didn't play kickball with him when he was little. It has become a running joke.

The hardest part is letting go. I've been parenting for 27 years and I still haven't figured it out.

Dan S said...

My dad always said that by the time you figure it out, you are unemployed as a parent.

I don't play kickball with my kids either. Uh oh.

brownie said...

You wouldn't have a problem getting up if you just quit sleeping (a habit of mine for the last decade).

equa yona(Big Bear) said...

I am convinced that a certain amount of guilt simply goes with parenting. Guilt sucks!

Tim said...

Dan, I never heard our dad say that, but I don't know what it is he thinks he "figured out." (I've never seen any evidence of him "figuring out" parenting.) As long as you have kids, you should never consider yourself "unemployed" as a father.

I agree with PG that the losers don't have that much self-reflection. But I disagree with Big Bear that guilt sucks (entirely). It keeps us on our toes and makes us better people.

Anonymous said...


I feel compelled to share my own loser dad story. Since we are both males, we shall then compare tales and decide which one of us is superior (as a loser dad). It's oddly comforting, as are most of my illogical male rituals.

On to my loser dad story. I'm terrible about carrying money. I don't do it, generally. So on those mornings when I suddenly realize I need $10 to go to lunch with co-workers, I grab my son's piggy-bank (where it's conveniently placed by the door to the garage), scrawl a quick IOU, and borrow $10.

I never felt bad about this, because Drew's piggy-bank was always stuffed - with bills collected at Christmas, birthdays, and from small jobs he did for neighbours. And since he's an obsessive saver, he never spends the money, so he doesn't miss it.

Until the day I was running to work, remembered I needed cash to pay for girl scout cookies at work, and grabbed the piggy-bank... only to find it completely stuffed with IOUs. Dozens of them. I had spent every cent of the several hundred $$$ Drew had accumulated over the years.

When he found out, he was devasted. I had to go to the bank, withdraw a small fortune, and pay him back in front of the family. Even then, his hurt stare followed me around the living room for days.

Now that's a loser dad.

Admit it. I'm superior, if only in loserness.

- John

John O'Neill

Dan S said...

OK, I admit it. You win in loserness.

You know, stealing money from your kid is just the first step. It ends in stealing drugs from your kid. Get help now John.

I avoid your particular problem by not paying my kids their allowance in cash most weeks. I rack up huge IOUs to them, which they then cash in during shopping frenzies. It's not exactly the money management lesson that I was hoping to instill in them with the concept of an allowance.

Jenna said...

I think you are a pretty good dad...don't worry. And your son's school does start way too early (a reason it is our third choice at registration). And at least you wake up...the dad here has been known to sleep through a lot of 'parenting' moments.

Anonymous said...

You are not nearly as big a loser as the parents of some children at the school where my husband teaches. The doors open at 7:45 but every morning these concerned and caring individuals pull up starting at 7:20, toss the kids out, and take off.

In winter, in summer, in rain or snow or shine and whether or not the school is pitch black and there's no one around.

Ellyn said...

I think the boy depicted in the post sounds delightful. He must have been well raised.

Isn't it some kind of scientific fact that children wake up easily and quickly and with lots of zest for life, while middle aged people are biologically sluggish?

Now taking the family to Disney World over spring break, that's bad parenting! Please explain that to your fans in a post!

I'm going to shyly express to your entire blog readership that I think the Schreiber parenting is top notch and then sign off with my alias so as not to catch any flak

-Naysayer to Christian Optimism