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Telling Secrets

faith, fatherhood, and culture

THE DARK UNDERBELLY OF PARENTING

Thursday, February 16, 2006


Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Ancient Mariner” tells the story of an Albatross that his fellow sailors adopted as a pet and believed to be the source of their good luck. His inner two-year old told him that it would be a good idea to skewer the bird with his crossbow. As bad things began to happen, the sailors got their revenge by hanging the decaying Albatross from the Mariner’s neck.

I like this story because it’s about me – sometimes I kill what brings me the most joy. Just last week, I was in charge of our two-and-a-half-year-old boy, Malachi, and 6-month old twin girls, Acacia and Ameena. It was bedtime, Malachi and Ameena were already half asleep and I didn’t expect Acacia to be a problem. An evening to myself is a rare and blessed occasion – I was heartily looking forward to a time of cookies and The French Connection.

Acacia, however, was callous, not giving two hoots about me. She wanted to scream. It was the scream that clenches my throat and makes me want to pick up and move to Nebraska. I took some deep cleansing breaths, this is me breathing, but my center was way off and I couldn’t find it. What I found was my primitive id gathering strength.

This is the dark underbelly of parenting. You scare yourself with thoughts about what you would really like to do to your kids. Images come unbidden and leave you afraid to ever be alone with your kids again.

I tried to love Acacia to silence. I shushed and cooed and rocked her back and forth. It didn’t work. So I tried shame. “Listen,” I scolded, “you are going wake up your brother and sister if you keep screaming like this, so stop it!” But Acacia was too selfish to care. Then I heard Ameena whimpering and I practically tossed Acacia onto the couch in disgust so I could get Ameena back to sleep. Acacia of course grew more upset and wailed pitifully, but my heart was hard.

At this point, every parent self-flagellates. “What is my problem? She probably has a tummy ache and I’m being ass because I want to watch my movie. Who’s the child here?”

Returning to Acacia with a contrite spirit, I tried again to love her to sleep. It worked for five minutes. I sang a Sunday School song about how much we all need Jesus, because at this point, I figured we both did – especially her. I began, “As the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after you…” Another scream, louder than the rest.

A voice I’d never heard before came from somewhere near my bowels, full of bile. It both growled and hissed from my mouth, “Acacia!” The girl I loved more than life was terrified.

I punished her for not letting me have the evening I wanted. I withheld my love and gave her fury. Jesus once equated this kind of anger with murder. In early A.D. Tarsus, if you murdered someone, you were punished by having your victim’s corpse bound to you, face-to-face and limb-to-limb. You carried around this decaying corpse, staring death in the face. The decomposing rot would slowly seep over you, into you, until, at last, your victim killed you. The Apostle Paul, who was from Tarsus, used this imagery when he wrote, “I don’t do the things I want to do, and I do the things I hate. Who will save me from this body of death?” That evening, I felt the decomposing rot of me seep into my skin.

I collapsed onto the couch, holding Acacia close, defeated and low. I kissed my daughter’s head and said with true repentance, “I am so sorry, Acacia. I am so sorry.” Nothing humbles you more than apologizing to your baby for being an ass. Her little fist clung to my shirt and I embraced her long after she stopped sobbing and had fallen peacefully asleep.

  1. Anonymous Angela said:

    Thanks for sharing this with me honey. I'm sorry this was such a frustrating night and a sad and difficult story to share. Please know that my comments are in an effort to figure out how to help, not to cause shame. I love you and I think you are a great dad.
    -P

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