Day 86: The not quite unyielding father

Think and act fairly when your face the next challenge, regardless of its impact on your position or popularity.

My six-year-old and my four-year old were colouring drawings of Skylanders and Ninjago today as bedtime was fast approaching. They were both tired after along day, especially the youngest one. In five minutes, you have to stop, I told them, it’s time for bed.

OK, dad, they muttered.

In one minute, I told them. OK, dad, they muttered.

In ten seconds, I told them. OK, dad, they muttered, and the youngest one whispered: ten is a lot.

Time’s up. Put away your crayons and papers and get upstairs.


The youngest one started to cry. Not because he was very unhappy, but he was slightly unhappy and very, very tired. I want to draw some more, he cried, tears rolling down his cheeks, I want to finish this drawing TODAY!

The oldest one didn’t cry, he didn’t even raise his voice. I’m almost done, dad, he said calmly, only some red around the edges, can I finish it, please?

I looked at their iPads (they use our iPads to see which colours they need to use; we never intended to buy two, but my wife got one at work). My oldest son really had just a little bit of red left. But if I cave now, I’m in for it, right? If I give in now, they will only complain and nag and cry even more next time, right? Sometimes, a dad has to be unyielding, right?  Especially when he has given them a precisely defined time limit, and that time limit is up? Especially when the youngest one forces his tears just to get things his way?

I told you, I said, time’s up. You can continue tomorrow. There’s no use in crying like that.

OK, the oldest said. The youngest stifled his tears and asked me again, the way adults both at home and at school tell him to ask about things: please, can I draw some more?

His iPad had 1% battery left.

Think and act fairly, yes — but what is fair? I chose five minutes more or less at random — but does that mean that it cannot be changed afterwards? Is it fair to say that they both have to finish when my oldest son finishes his drawing? Wouldn’t a randomly imposed but inflexible time limit be fairer, i.e. just as unfair for both? And should it matter how they ask me? Should a please make my change my mind?

I’m with Calvin’s dad: I’m not in this job as a father to win popularity competitions. I want to do the right thing and do my best to make their lives as good as possible. Their entire lives, not just a couple of minutes drawing extra. I should be firm and strict, right? They shouldn’t get more time, right?

They did. I allowed my oldest son to finish his drawing, and allowed my youngest son to continue drawing until his iPad died.

I was irritated and annoyed. Why can’t they just come when I tell them to? It felt like they had been pushing my buttons for the last hour, testing my limits and finding ways of asserting their independence at the sacrifice of our family unity (i.e. my role as the undisputed dictator). Most likely, though, it wasn’t them as much as me: I was just tired.

My oldest son finished his drawing, my youngest son’s iPad died, and we went upstairs — the oldest first and me after, with the youngest on my back.

I am a bad father. I say one thing and do another. I give in too easily, I invite them to complain to get what they want. My kids whine a lot? I ask for it.

My youngest son went to his room to get his security blanket. The oldest put on his pyjamas and came back to the bath room to let me brush his teeth.

He’ll probably complain about the pyjamas, or the time it takes to brush his teeth, or that the toothbrush tickles.

But he didn’t. He just stood there for three minutes, quite still. He’s almost never done that before. And when we were done, he turned to me and gave me a hug.

Thank you for letting me finish my drawing, he said.

Thank you.

He went into his room and the youngest one came into the bathroom with his blanket, ready to brush his teeth.

Perhaps I’m not a bad father after all.


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