You will notice that this week’s article looks a lot like last week’s article. Due to some unforeseen computer issues, I was not able to access what I had written for this week. As a result, last week’s reflection on fatherhood is now this week’s reflection on fatherhood. I did append a small essay on the elements that make an effective apology. I hope you find it helpful. Thanks for your patience. See you next week.
A Disney generation ago, when my oldest daughter was three-years-old, “The Little Mermaid” was all the rage in our house. In that tale, Triton, the emperor of an underwater kingdom, flew into a rage when he discovered his daughter’s secret treasure-room filled with scavenged human artifacts. When Triton saw this evidence of his daughter’s forbidden proximity to the human world, his fear got the better of him.
According to this movie, when it comes to emotions, it would seem that mermen are similar creatures to the males of our own species. Triton channeled his fear into anger. In his rage, he smashed many of his daughter’s treasures. When the tantrum was over, the king appeared to be contrite. His weeping daughter was unaware of her father’s sorrow because he played it strong and aloof. This apparent lack of emotional intelligence led to all kinds of mischief in his daughter’s life.
When my youngest daughter (now twelve years-old) was three-years old, King Triton, Ariel, Sebastian and all the rest had passed into retirement. “Dora” was the new diva. And so, on a sunny, summer’s Tuesday morning, I thought nothing of it when Lizzie asked me if she could watch another episode of “Dora the Explorer” before we attended swimming lessons. In her request, I saw an opportunity to clean the kitchen without interruptions. This, I was to learn, was my mid-summer’s morning mistake.
An episode of “Dora” takes precisely thirty minutes with commercial interruptions. To make it to Tuesday’s swim lessons on time, we would need to leave the house in precisely twenty-five minutes. That five-minute miscalculation proved to be the equivalent of leaving the tent door unzipped in a mosquito-infested woods. It opened Lizzie and me up to getting stung.
When it came time to pack up for our lessons, the episode failed to conclude. A smarter man than I would have recognized his mistake, cut his losses, and shown up late to the lessons. I insisted upon turning off the show, and attempting to pull Lizzie’s swim-suit on over the top of her outraged, writhing body.
Lizzie’s recalcitrance invited the tantrum-ing King Triton within me to assert his authority. The trident-toting tyrant whipped up a weather system within me that hopped over to my daughter, and followed us in the car to swim lessons. By the time we arrived at the pool, Lizzie was too upset to get into the water and take directions. For all intents and purposes, we missed the swim lessons.
Eventually the storms subsided as Lizzie and I drowned our sorrows over coffee cake at our favorite diner. Together, we reviewed the game tape of our conflict. We settled upon the appropriate consequences and amends. When we arrived home, I discussed what had happened with my two older kids, and apologized for my King Triton behavior. Having gotten Lizzie down for her nap, I sat at my word processor to write an article for the upcoming Sunday.
Staring at my blank computer screen, it occurred to me that the upcoming Sunday that year, was Father’s Day. Given my performance that morning, I felt like calling in a guest author. Fresh off of a less than stellar dad day, I didn’t feel like I had the bona fides to write a reflection on fatherhood. That’s when I cracked open my Bible, and read the first reading for this Sunday (2 Samuel 12: 7-10, 13) and read about a flawed king who was sorry for his failings.
It then occurred to me that the imperfect King David was in good company when placed within the pantheon of other male figures of both the Old and New Testaments. With the exceptions of the New Testament Joseph, and his son, Jesus, (and his cousin, John) every other male lead character of the Bible displayed significant flaws that became evident somewhere within the course of his respective story. Perfection, it would seem, is not the prerequisite for God’s calling.
Mercifully, perfection is also not the pre-requisite for Christian fatherhood. Based upon this Sunday’s readings, (Both 2 Samuel 12, and Luke 7: 36- Ch. 8), it would seem that a man’s ability to own up to his flaws is an essential characteristic of Christian leadership…including fatherhood.
As a Christian dad, the best in me is never more on display than when I acknowledge the worst in me. To deny that my inner King Triton exists, is to give that tyrant the steering wheel to the ship of my psyche and behavior. Owning up to this part of myself gives me the ability to more intelligently study it, understand it, and direct it.
Real authority for a Christian dad rests, not in perfection or bluster. Authentic Christian fatherhood rests upon the firm foundation of self-reflective, compassionate, humble love that covers a multitude of fatherly imperfections.
Elements of a Proper Apology
1. It must be specific (eg.”I’m sorry for the time I missed your recital.” NOT: “I’m sorry for anything I ever did to hurt your feelings.”).
2. Include the impact you think it had on the apology recipient:
(e.g. “I’m sorry I missed your recital. If it was me, I would wonder if my dad really cared about my music. I think it would hurt my feelings”).
3. Voice your firm intention to avoid this mistake in the future. (e.g. “I’m sorry I missed your recital. You must have felt like I didn’t care about your music. I do care, and so I promise that I will do my very best in the future to make your recitals.).
4. Very Important: Avoid spending much time at all explaining why you made the mistake. However well intentioned you are in voicing your explanation it will come off as minimizing your mistake.
5. If your mistake rises to a high enough level of harm to the recipient, make amends. An “amends” is when you do something that requires self-sacrifice that shows your sorrow and your firm intention of avoiding this mistake in the future. The best cinematic example of this can be found in Robert DeNiro’s role of Rodrigo Mendoza in the 1986 movie, “The Mission.” If the amends can rectify the mistake, all the better. But if the mistake can’t be fixed, at least the amends shows the person hurt by your mistake that you take your apology seriously.