Public Apology

As the author of this blog I try to write about topics that are relevant to my everyday life as a Stay At Home Dad. A couple of days ago I shared a post that reflected on some of my experiences as an athlete in Junior High School in the mid-80s and as a basketball coach in the mid-90s. I used two examples from the experiences of my oldest two daughters to make the connection to my current role as SAHD and parent. It was never my intention to focus only on the negative or to bash the coaches personally or to passive-aggresively complain about the playing time that my children received. Unfortunately, it was received that way by some of the parties involved. Even though my intent was good and no malice was intended, I completely own my comments and stand by them as such, although out of respect to those involved I took the post down. I have always told my children that their actions are theirs and that they need to take responsibility for them, even when there are unintended (negative) consequences to them. This is another opportunity for me to practice what I preach.

To the coaches, players and parents on my daughter’s team, I am truly sorry that my words hurt you. Please accept my apology and I humbly ask for your forgiveness. My daughter had an enjoyable experience playing club water polo on your team and is a better player for it. She made a lot of new friends and increased her skills as a player. If she hadn’t played for you this summer she wouldn’t have learned what it felt like to hit the game-winning shot in a tournament game a few weeks ago back in Washington. If she hadn’t played she wouldn’t have gotten to travel to California to play against some of the best players (of her age) in the country. I look forward to seeing how she applies these positive experiences to her high school water polo team next spring and hope that her new friendships will continue. Personally, I’ve come to think of the other water polo parents as friends and I would hate to think that I put those new friendships in jeopardy because of my words. I guess only time will tell if I’m a quick learner or a slow learner.

As a parent I tell my kids all the time that they’re going to make mistakes simply because we’re all afflicted by the same condition. The human condition. But, I also tell them that it’s how we respond to our mistakes that reveals our true character. I hope that this will serve as the needed reminder to me that my words do have power and that I need to be sure choose them carefully so that I do not hurt others.

Sultan of Swat

This is a tough post to write but I’m going ahead with it because one of the reasons I started this blog about being a Stay At Home Dad was to use it as a way to be reflective about what I’m doing as a parent. To learn from both the successes and the failures. Over the 14 years I’ve been a SAHD (and the six years before that as a middle school teacher) I’ve done a pretty decent job of keeping my cool. I’m a pretty laid-back guy and I try my best to be patient with everyone, especially my children. Any parent knows that kids can really test you and pester you and do stuff that shouldn’t get on your nerves, but it still does. It’s my experience that this is exacerbated for the at-home parent of small children who often deals with the seemingly endless requests to do this or that from the moment the little ones wake up until the moment they (finally!) go to sleep. Sure, I try to get my little ones to learn patience but, well, herding cats sometimes seems like it might be easier.

Well, rewind to a few days ago, Thursday, to be exact. It was a routine Spring day for us that was highlighted by a trip to a local park to enjoy some of the nice weather.

Playing at the park

Playing at the park

We had an early dinner without my wife, who stayed late to work, so we could be on time to meet her at my 15 year old daughter’s high school water polo game at 6:20 pm. Even though my M, four year old, very thoughtfully served some spaghetti to J, her 22 month old sister, while I finished cooking dinner (yeah, that onesie may not ever come clean), we were on target to leave the house to be, gasp!, ten minutes early for the game. The final hurdle to conquer was changing the J’s diaper. Piece of cake for this seasoned veteran. Or so I thought. As I laid J down on the changing table I noticed M trying to climb up the end of it. I asked her to please get down. Moments later M was standing bedside me at the changing table, trying to tickle her sister. I asked her to please stop. (I’m patient and well-mannered, thankyouverymuch!) Within the next 30 seconds as I was trying to wipe J’s butt and place the clean diaper under her I must have asked M three or four more times to please stop poking, tickling or otherwise prodding her sister because every time she did that her sister would twist her body impossibly as only toddlers on changing tables can do and I’d have to rearrange the diaper all over again. Exhale. I could feel myself getting a little worked up as I asked, for the sixth time in about a minute and a half, for M to Please. Stop. Touching. Her.

SWAT! 

8d8718e763a4a1392f460e9efec731ed35ea1a2eThat’s what I did to her hand as she reached to poke, tickle or prod her sister that one last time. It wasn’t a “hit”, but it might as well have been. And in that moment of frustration I lost my patience with my adorable four year old and violated one of my cardinal rules of parenting: never, ever, under any circumstances, lay a hand on my child in anger or frustration. I felt like smelly poo. How could I have done this to my child? She pulled her hand back and looked into my eyes, giant tears already forming in her eyes. Not as much from the physical pain but more from the fact that I’d swatted her hand out of frustration. I dropped to a knee to be at her eye level and immediately told her how very wrong it was for me to do that to her and I asked her earnestly to forgive me. Through her tears she nodded yes and, as we embraced, hot tears flowed from my eyes as they burned my cheeks. We talked about it some more right then as I finished getting the diaper on J and while we headed to the car.

It’s been just over 48 hours since I became, in my own mind at least, the Sultan of Swat. And I’ve been beating myself up over my lack of self-control and momentary lapse the whole time. It cannot happen again. Period. There is no room to justify my actions by thinking, “If she had listened in the first place…” Nope. Not even remotely an excuse. Yet, I have to be able to forgive myself in order to move on. M forgave me so now I need to do the same. Yet, I can still learn from this experience. While I am a pretty patient parent, I need to realize that I do, indeed, have a breaking point. If/when I feel myself approaching that point I need to do an internal “lemon squeeze” like my kids were taught in elementary school or slowly count to ten. Looking back on this particular incident, I should have counted M using the 1-2-3 Magic discipline system that we’ve used with all of our children for the last 15+ years. (I think I’m going to reread that book this week.) Had I done that, the situation would not have escalated and there would have been no swat. In the end, I have to learn from this mistake, forgive myself and remember that I’m not perfect. After all, imperfection is part of the human condition.

Do the Right Thing: An Apology 30 Years Too Late

“Dad, what was the meanest thing you did when you were a kid?” That simple question by my ten year old son set in motion an apology that was 30 years overdue. It was really an innocent conversation last month with my son while we made some cookies together in the kitchen. He asked me that question and immediately I thought of the only time in my life when I was truly mean to someone else. I shared with him two incidents from when I was in sixth grade. Upon hearing the stories from my past, my son immediately asked, “Did you apologize to her for that?“. I told him that, well, no, I hadn’t apologized back then because I never admitted to her what I had done. “You should do it now, Dad.” I agreed and told him that I’d try to find her on Facebook and see what I could do about it. After all, it’s never too late to try to make things right…even if it’s 30 years later!

So, I checked on Facebook. No Kelly. I Googled her. No Kelly. I looked on whitepages.com. No Kelly. As a last resort, I posted on Facebook to see if any of my friends from high school knew of her now. To my surprise, a few of them knew of her whereabouts, as she was still living and working in the area. I reached out to one of the people who had responded, Carrie, my childhood friend and next door neighbor, to see if she would be willing to deliver a letter from me to Kelly. Thankfully, Carrie agreed and I composed my letter and emailed it across the country from Washington to Wisconsin. I’ll admit that I was more than a little nervous about actually contacting Kelly after all these years. Was I going to cause her even more pain by bringing up the past? Would she respond? If she did, how would she respond? I told my son (and my other kids, for that matter) that I had sent the letter and that Carrie was going to deliver it a few days later. Here’s the letter that I wrote.

Dear Kelly,

I’m writing you today as a result of a conversation I had with my ten year old son a few days ago. He asked me to tell him about the meanest thing I did when I was a kid. Without hesitation my mind raced back to a couple of choices I made as a twelve year old at Wilson Elementary School in Neenah. I shared with him two stories of how I mistreated you. Actually, I didn’t just mistreat you, I was downright mean, cruel and hurtful. The first incident I recalled was how I purposely left you behind when my mom was driving a group of us to Neenah High School for a district-wide choir rehearsal. In an attempt to gain favor with the “popular” kids I lied to you about where to meet so that you wouldn’t be in the van with us. At school the next day I had to lie to you again to cover up my original lie. The second incident was how I discovered your locker ajar (it was next to mine, I think) and saw a tampon on the shelf. Instead of simply shutting your locker I took the tampon and placed it on your desk for everyone to see upon our return from lunch and recess. Again, I chose to purposely embarrass and hurt you. Even putting these awful actions from 30 years ago in writing makes me feel like a huge jerk all over again.

And that brings me to the present. My son was shocked that I could have been so mean, cruel and hurtful. Quite frankly, so am I. He asked me one question, “Did you ever apologize to her?”. Regrettably, the answer to that was “no”. I told him that I was so ashamed of myself that I never admitted to you that I had lied to you about the choir trip or confessed about putting the tampon on your desk. I decided that I needed to own up to it and, through the connections of old classmates on Facebook, I found you. So, Kelly, I want you to know how sorry I am for making those awful choices. Will you please forgive me for choosing to be mean, cruel and hurtful to you. I know that I cannot erase the hurt that I caused years ago. I’ve taught my children the importance of both apologizing and seeking forgiveness and this is an opportunity for me to do that, albeit 30 years too late.

I understand if you don’t want to contact me about this. If you would like to contact me you can call or text me at xxx-xxx-xxxx or email me at xxxxxxx@gmail.com. I live in Washington state with my family (wife and six kids) and get back to visit my mom in Neenah once in a while. I’d love to hear about how you’ve been if you want to reach out. I wish you and yours peace and joy.

Sincerely,

Carl

Kelly responded a few days later in an email.

Dear Carl,

Imagine my surprise at your letter being delivered to me at work today. I hadn’t thought about those things in many years. Of course I forgive you. The reason being Jesus forgives me my wrongs against others as well. While I cannot deny those things hurt, and yes some one told me in a rather mean way I had been left behind a bit later. I know that the in crowd can be a huge pressure at that age. After a time you learn to be yourself no matter what others do. School that year was rough but it was used in ways that built a heart of compassion within me. That awkward kid figured out that God loved her very much as the years went by, no matter what others may have done. Even then I knew God saw the tears I tried so hard to hide from others. It built in me compassion for others, to treat others as I wish to be treated.

Fast forward to now. Twenty-one years of marriage, a son soon to be twenty-one, an eleven year daughter. Life is never boring here. I work my secular job while being an assistant pastor at a small church for the past few years.

May God bless you and keep you well.

Kelly

When I received that email I was snuggling my 16 month old daughter in my arms as she was falling asleep. Through tears of joy I said a silent prayer of thanks to God for such an amazing response. Later that evening I replied.

Dear Kelly,
Wow. I am completely blown away by the grace and kindness of your message. I’m so thankful that God was able to turn such a difficult time in your life into something positive for you. I actually learned a similar lesson about compassion and kindness for others as a result of being mean to you. Reading about how God has used you for his good despite hard circumstances makes me think of how God used Joseph for His greater purpose after the terrible treatment he received from both his brothers and Potiphar’s wife. I’m glad that you have such a strong faith. And, honestly, I’m even more disappointed in my own shortcomings from years ago because I, too, grew up in a Christian family and I knew that what I was doing was wrong.
I told my kids yesterday that I had written you a letter and that Carrie had delivered it before getting your response. I’m excited to share it with them because it’s really why I did this in the first place. To show that it’s never too late to do the right thing, even if it’s 30 years later. I’m also eager to show them, through your gracious letter, how God can turn hardship into a beautiful testimony to His enduring love and faithfulness.
Blessings to you and your family,
Carl
As I shared with my children that next day about Kelly’s amazing letter I realized that I wanted to blog about this experience of seeking forgiveness but would only do so with Kelly’s permission, which she graciously granted. I’m glad that my son asked me that question last month because, without it, I probably wouldn’t have sought out Kelly to apologize for my poor choices 30 years ago. I didn’t share this so that you all would think that I’m some sort of saint because I apologized for something I did a long time ago. Nope, I’m human and just as flawed as anyone else. I shared this because it shows that it is possible to try and make amends for mistakes from the past. I would encourage you to not wait 30 years, though, before seeking forgiveness. However long it takes, it’s never too late to do the right thing!

Bad Dad: Seeking Forgiveness

Image

Saturday started out on the right foot. I woke up and went to the YMCA to hit the elliptical machine for a 45 minute workout while my wife fed breakfast to our youngest children. Upon my return home I was back in charge of them so she could shower. Without going into the details, some of my older children got into a conflict while I was “in charge”. In a few moments of poor parenting I made some choices that I wish I could take back. But, since there’s no “EASY” button like in those Staples ads, I had to endure the consequences of my poor parenting choices. The peaceful Saturday morning had been shattered, replaced with a tension and uneasiness because I didn’t handle the conflict between two of my children appropriately. I actually caused it to escalate by my actions. With one of my kids crying in a bedroom and another with me in the kitchen while I fed my baby breakfast I began to realize the depth of my parenting failure that morning.

I started to replay the events in my mind, trying to justify my behavior so that I wouldn’t feel so bad about how I’d (mis)handled the conflict. Before I could get too far into that line of thinking my wife came into the kitchen to let me know that I’d royally screwed up that morning. She didn’t say it exactly that way, but that’s the version I’m sticking with. And I knew she was right. Even in my defensive state of mind I was still able to recognize truth. I knew that I needed to apologize to both of my kids for the way I had acted in response to their conflict. As a parent, I’m usually able to keep my cool and respond appropriately. In this instance, I had failed to do that and had failed them. I knew better. And they deserved better. So, there it was. I owed them each an apology.

The good news is that when I was very young my parents taught me how to apologize and seek forgiveness whenever I wronged someone else. The bad news is that I’ve had way too much practice doing that over the years. In all seriousness, though, I’ve learned that most people will accept an apology if they can see and understand that I’m truly sorry. Many are almost caught off-guard when asked to forgive me. There’s a look that they give me that’s a mix of wonder, shock and gratitude. Unfortunately, as a parent I make mistakes. However, each time that I do I try to use it as an opportunity to grow as a parent and to model for my children how to apologize. This time was no different. I went to each child and explained how I had messed up and how I would handle the conflict in the future if it were to arise. Then I apologized and asked forgiveness. It’s especially hard for me to do that when I can see the hurt that I’ve caused in the eyes of my child. Thankfully, each of them forgave me and we’re moving on from it.

I guess that’s the other part of the “forgiveness” lesson I’ve learned over the years. While seeking forgiveness is important, being willing to grant forgiveness is truly the key. I could go on and on about the importance of forgiveness but I’ll try to leave it with this: Forgiving the mistakes of others is the key to happy and healthy relationships. Life is too precious to live in the land of UN-forgiveness.

PS-That’s supposed to be a “bad” or “scary” face. Don’t laugh. It’s the best I could come up with. It’s not like I was planning on blogging about a parenting fail. 🙂