My last two blogs were about the narcissistic tendencies of my Mother. This blog is about my Father and his inability to apologize for his mistakes. You don’t have to be a “feel good” parent or “best friend of your child” parent to apologize when you screw up. To the contrary, I believe it’s even possible for authoritarian and strict parents to admit when they’re wrong, under right the circumstances. What kind of example do parents set for their child when they, the parent, are ALWAYS right, especially when it comes to discipline and decision making? Essentially, it’s no example. “Father’s always right” is not the way to go. Children will grow up lacking the ability to apologize for their own wrongdoings, because they never had the proper example set for them.
My Father, as the household leader, was in charge of discipline and decision making that guided our lives early on. This was particularly apparent when it came to punishment: if we did something wrong, whether by his standards or common societal standards, we were duly punished. Looking back, there were times when I definitely deserved the punishment and discipline I received. Other times, though, the castigation from my Father was inappropriate, over the top, and not very nurturing. Instead of correcting my mistakes with a degree of guidance and thought, he often resorted to put-downs and corporal punishment as a means to keep my brothers and I in line and reinforce his authority position. As a result, we could never question him, because we knew what would come next if we did.
Right away, it’s clear that my Father obviously had some insecurities as a man. He wasn’t very in touch with his emotional side, and preferred to boast a macho persona opposed to someone who was caring and aware of his children’s needs. When my brothers and I had emotional reactions to his discipline, he used the opportunity to discipline us further for reacting. The classic “do as I say, not as I do” adage also applied. If I hit my brother during a fight, my Father hit me and told me not to hit others. While it is clearly wrong for me to be physical with my younger brothers, it’s a bit confusing to be punished for hitting by getting hit back. This sort of logic confounded me and taught me to fear my Father instead of looking up to him as a male role model.
As I grew into my teen years, I quickly grasped a more holistic understanding of right and wrong. Whether it was from family style TV sitcoms, movies, or what I saw from the fathers of others, I slowly gleaned a sense of what was helpful or hurtful for children. This is not to say that I knew better than my Father, but instead that I came to know when what he did was wrong, and that he should be called out on it and admit his mistakes. Of course, in his authoritarian style household, this never happened.
One day, I made an awful remark to my younger brother, chiding him about his Attention Deficit Disorder. My father heard what I said and stormed into the bathroom where I was slapped so hard that I had a small, yet visible black eye. If this had happened on the weekend, I would have broke down and gone to my room to cry. Unfortunately for me, all this transpired an hour before I was supposed to get on the bus for middle school, perhaps the most socially awkward time of my life. Reporting to homeroom with a black eye was going to be extremely embarrassing and upsetting, and instead of letting my emotions play out, I had to bottle it all up. Since this incident caused my brother and I to miss our bus, my Mom drove us to school, and I refused to leave the car. My rhetorical questions as an 8th grader, which I’ll paraphrase in more formal language, were: “What father hits his kids, and then expects them to go to school?”, and “Does the punishment really fit the crime?”.
In reality, what I did was wrong and deserving of punishment. I fully admit my mistake and take responsibility for it. Instead of slapping me across the face, my Father should have made me apologize to my brother, and then punished me by limiting my freedoms as a young teenager (ie. no watching TV after homework, ability to leave the house, or even ability to leave my room etc). Surely these disciplinary actions would have been more appropriate, and would have taught me to rectify my mistakes with an apology and pay with an appropriate loss of freedoms.
When I returned home from school later that day, I continued to be angry with my Mother for letting my Father hit me. I tearfully argued how embarrassed I was in school, that what he did would never happen to other children I knew, and that I would call the police and report him for child abuse. Although my Mother stood by my Father’s actions despite my pleas, she did acknowledge to a point that he went too far.
So what should have happened? My Father should have come home, reminded me of my punishment, and then admitted that slapping me was not the right thing to do. He should have simply apologized: “I’m sorry that I lost control and hit you, but you made me very angry when you made that horrible remark to your brother.”
Of course, this didn’t happen. Instead, we hardly spoke for days, until other family matters brought us back into a more diplomatic relationship.
To conclude, I’m not suggesting that children are always right, or that they should be allowed to get away with inappropriate, immoral, or evil behavior. Instead, I believe that children should be disciplined and made to fix their mistakes. It’s important to note, however, that this is not a one-way street. Though children should respect their parents, they to, are deserving of apologies, even when it’s the parent who screwed up and went TOO far. This is how emotionally healthy, assertive, respectful children are raised.