A Dad's 'Lecture' Leads Him Back to Childhood
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“It’s not easy being a parent. In fact, sometimes it’s downright frustrating, like when you have to correct your child for the same behavior over and over.”
These were the opening sentences for the first Mother’s Day column I ever wrote. It’s been three years, and I still feel the same. Of course, there are two sides to every story. It’s not easy being a child, either. In fact, sometimes it’s downright frustrating, like when your parents continue to nag at you over and over.
I’m sure all parents have given the “think before you speak” speech. Jessie, my 10-year-old daughter, has heard this speech a few times, with a special emphasis on “It’s not just what you say, but how you say it.”
Prior to a recent corrective-action discussion (Jessie calls them lectures), I had a flashback to my sixth-grade days. It’s a perfect story of a 12-year-old boy not learning the “think before you speak” rule. After this experience, I had a much firmer grasp of the concept.
Near the end of our school day, the second-grade class played dodgeball in the courtyard outside our window. Our teacher, Mrs. Dowd, instructed us to focus on our work, not on the second-graders. I’m not sure what the teacher said next, but smart-alecky me, trying to get a laugh, raised my hand and said, “I’ll go out and play with them.”
Needless to say, my response didn’t sit well with Mrs. Dowd. She gave me two choices: March down to the principal’s office or head outside to play with the second-graders. Since playing sounded much better than bending over and grabbing my ankles, as principals spanked during my school years, I chose dodgeball. I won’t forget my embarrassment when I had to explain to the second-grade teacher why I crashed her students’ game of dodgeball.
When the second-graders’ recess ended, I walked back into my classroom. Had I learned my lesson? I’m sure I was trying to save face with my classmates when I told my teacher, “That was fun. I’d do that again.”
I’ve never won an award for being a quick learner, but I did realize at that point I had just forced Mrs. Dowd to intensify my training.
“OK then,” she said. “The next time we have recess, you can stay in to work and then go out with the second-grade class for their recess.”
By that point in time, the lightbulb in my brain flickered with the notion that maybe I should keep my smart mouth shut.
It’s good this happened near the end of the school day, because my stomach felt like it had taken a direct hit from a dodgeball. Somehow, though, I kept it together until I made it home. Then I cried. During supper that evening, more tears flowed as I told my parents what happened and begged them to, “Please talk to my teacher so she doesn’t make me play with the second-graders again.” Of course, in my heart I knew my parents would never try to get me out of a punishment I richly deserved (and they didn’t).
Luckily for me, Mrs. Dowd never followed through on her plan, and I gained a valuable lesson on the line between humor and disrespect. It seems obvious, but we all have to learn the importance of the timing, tone and content of our words — and that sometimes, silence is golden. I always try to share these kinds of lessons with Jessie to spare her the pain of learning them the hard way like I did — concluding my corrective-action discussions with three important words that apply to every lecture topic, “I love you.”
Patrick Hempfing had a 20-year professional career in banking, accounting and auditing before he became a father at age 44. He is now a full-time husband, stay-at-home dad, and writer. Follow him at facebook.com/patricklhempfing and on Twitter @patrickhempfing. If you enjoyed this column, check out Hempfing’s first book, “MoMENts: A Dad Holds On,” scheduled for release on Amazon.com May 1.