I was two hours into an hour-long job, when the wheels of fatherhood began to come flying off.
My Sunday morning project – replacing our dishwasher – was supposed to be simple. But, as I studied the new dishwasher’s instruction manual for the fourth time, there was no hiding the fact that I was lost – and growing increasingly irritated.
The parting comment of our appliance salesperson, Tim, rang in my head as I snatched up my keys for another trip to the hardware store, “Toby, I’m telling you, this is an easy fix – a project you can do yourself with no problem.”
I just may have repeatedly cursed Tim’s name as I readied to go to Home Depot.
I just may have yelled at my kids to, “GET IN THE VAN, NOW!”
It is fair to say that Sunday morning was not filled with “Father of the Year” moments for me.
In the rear-view, Project Dishwasher Replacement was doomed from the start. I decided to try to complete the installation while my wife was working – relying on my five kids to, basically, self-govern without water or electricity while I fumbled around with a set of wrenches.
My rage simmered gradually.
It started with the loud, pointed objections from my 9 and 11 year-old boys – flipping the electrical breaker unexpectedly ended their important game of FIFA ’17 soccer.
The rage began to boil steadily when my 7 year-old daughter falsely screamed from the patio, “Dad, come here! Emersyn (the 1 year-old) is eating a rock!”
To top it off, Everett, my 4 year-old, pulled the drain pipe of the old dishwasher which created a pool of skunky smelling water exactly where I was working.
Yep, that was it. I lost it.
I yelled at Everett to, “GET ME A TOWEL, QUICKLY!”
As I waited for him, I noticed stuffed animals scattered all over the living room, telling my daughter, “VIVI, GET THE LIVING ROOM PICKED UP, NOW!”
And, I couldn’t leave my sons out, so I hollered at them, “GUYS, CAN YOU PLEASE MAKE SURE YOUR LITTLE BROTHER AND SISTER DO NOT COME IN THE KITCHEN.”
My house was, suddenly, silent and devoid of all energy.
As I sank back down in the pool of scummy drain water to continue this failed operation, I felt terrible. I even felt awful nearly an hour later as I secured the dishwasher to the counter-top.
Lynden, my 9 year-old, was the first of my children to approach as I began to pack up my wrenches, “Dad, it looks really good.”
Everett was next, “Are you done now, Daddy?”
I pulled my littlest boy closer, “Yep! All finished – finally.”
“Then, you won’t yell anymore?”
All I could think to say was, “Sorry, buddy. I’m good now.”
As I glanced around the room at my five kids, I realized a few things:
That, sometimes, I can be a real ass.
Often, I inadvertently take out frustrations on the little ones that I love the most.
And, always, my children will forgive me before I will pardon myself.
My tirade bothered me for the rest of the day – even though my kids seemed to have brushed it off.
The fact is, getting through the days when I’m not at my best is not easy – it eats away at me.
Some of the regret I feel is a result of the unreachable pursuit of parenting perfection that sets me up to fail.
Maybe, another shred of regret is that I feel alone in the struggle. After all, I only really see images of good parenting around me – at the park, at the soccer field, walking to school and on social media.
I don’t have to scroll very far on Facebook to see pictures of families on vacation, a father/daughter date night, or a dad lobbing a wiffle ball to his awaiting son with a toy bat.
The funny thing about seeing all of that happiness is that it can be isolating during a Sunday like mine – when I find myself in moments that will never make a social media feed, on days where my kids see me at my worst.
But, just as my kids bounce back, so will I – and not by pretending that I’m super-dad all the time. I’ll acknowledge my faults, apologize frequently and tell my kids that I’ll try harder next time.
For me, parenting is about being my own, personal best as much as possible – and getting over the times when I’m not, quicker than I do now.
With apologies to salesman Tim, there are no “easy fixes” in my home – not in raising my children or in any household fix-it mission.
Parenting is the ultimate do-it-yourself project – one that may require laying in a pool of scummy water to realize how fortunate I am.