During the first year of my daughter’s life, I punched three holes in three walls; one in the downstairs hallway, one in the upstairs hallway, and the largest in the kitchen. Each time I reached that peak level of frustration – the kind of fever pitch that resulted in collateral damage to our home – I told myself it would be the last. It had to be. I told myself that no matter how unreasonable the situation, hitting the wall was not OK, and, most importantly, it wasn’t the kind of memory a child should have of their father.
So I consulted the internet for help. I downloaded a meditation app. I tried controlled breathing on the advice of a popular health blog. I affirmed that, from now on, I would be the kind of dad who expresses his anger through words only. No more smashing stuff.
Then my fist went through the microwave door.
It was the last straw (not to mention a nightmare to clean up). My wife sat me down for a hard but necessary “come to Jesus” chat. It was enough to make me finally hang up my boxing gloves for good. And since then, I’m happy to say, nary a household object has been whacked, walloped, or shattered. When exasperated, I simply place my hands behind my head and step away as if ordered to do so by some invisible trooper. Even if I only remove myself for a moment or two, it’s enough to clear the red from my vision.
But I still do struggle. And sometimes I can’t step away. Case in point: When my sweet daughter is perched precariously on the bathroom counter, her soft feet dangling over the hard tile floor… and she’s refusing to let me brush her teeth.
Now, when I say “refuse,” I don’t mean she shakes her head or covers her mouth. She doesn’t throw a fit like her old man. She doesn’t scream “no.” What she does is far more diabolical. It’s the cheapest of cheap shots.
She hugs me.
That’s right. She throws her chubby little arms over my shoulders, pulls me in tight and lays her head against my neck. To an onlooker, I can only assume the display would elicit the world’s biggest “Aww.” It’s the definition of adorable. And it drives me nuts.
“OK, thank you, Bee,” I’ll say through a chuckle, “I love you. Now let’s get back to brushing.” Then she’ll double down, tightening her grip. “That’s so nice. Now come on, let’s brush those teeth….” To this she’ll sigh dreamily, as if imagining I’m a puppy. And so I’ll start to pull away, saying sternly this time, “All right, it’s brush time.” Then the big guns:
“I luhf you dod.”
It’s excruciating. And it goes on forever. There might be several hug breaks over the course of a single toothbrushing session, each one more cloying than the last. My wife may even pop in and say something like, “Looks like we’ve got ourselves a daddy’s girl tonight!” Meanwhile I’m choking back my rage like cheap vodka.
Just so we’re clear… I fully realize how monstrous I sound. But I need you to understand where toothbrushing falls in our nightly routine. By this point, on any given night, I may have cooked and/or cleaned up after dinner, taken LB — that’s “Lil Bee” — to the park, made lunches, officiated bath time, combed hair, and struggled to get her into her PJs. All of this after nine hours at the office and an hour commute on either side.
If you saw me after 8pm, you’d be forgiven for confusing me with a soulless cadaver. I’m a mere husk of a man when the time the nighttime ritual commences. And the only thing standing between me and a few fingers of Kentucky Gentleman is a mouthful of dirty toddler teeth. So while I love my gentle, emotionally manipulative angel – make no mistake, she knows exactly what she’s doing with these hugs – it is GO. TIME.
And yet, despite all of my frustration and a deep yearning to drink bottom shelf bourbon… I accept the hugs. I accept them with a smile painted on, and think of them fondly when I’m back in my right frame of mind. Because I know that there will likely come a day when hugs are a rare and precious commodity. It’s all but inevitable.
So, even as the stress of the day sits heavy on my chest, I dutifully suppress the rage monster within. My desire to be a halfway decent dad, it turns out, is far greater than my desire to smash stuff.
Alex Moschina is a Baltimore-based writer and video editor who enjoys exploring the outdoors with his wife and daughter.