Drew Magary on Being a Terrible, Loving Father

Ahead of Father’s Day, I enjoyed this story by Drew Magary on his thoughts of being a father. In the story, his daughter has a fit, and he responds trying to punish her. It doesn’t go well.

Then my daughter somehow managed to scream even louder, as if summoning a bullhorn from down inside her esophagus. I raced up the stairs two at a time and threw open the door. I’m not sure I cared if the swinging door would hit her or not. She slipped by me and ran down the stairs. When she saw the boy, she reared back and smacked his chest with her open hand. And the look he gave her after she did it made me want to cry forever. He looked so deeply hurt. A pure hurt, as if his whole world had been shattered. He couldn’t fathom why anyone would ever want to hurt him like that, let alone his own sister, whom he adored. I could see the sense of betrayal in his eyes, and there arose in me a kind of anger that everyone possesses but that no one should ever unleash. I grabbed my daughter again as my son opened wide and howled in pain.

“WHY DID YOU HIT HIM?!”

“I hate him!” she said. “He’s the worst brother in the whole world and I’m going to cut his head open!”

“You apologize to him right now.”

She walked up and wrapped her arms tightly around him. For half a second, it was a loving gesture. Then she laughed maniacally. When my daughter was born, I got a nice card from my uncle saying that my child’s laughter would be the sweetest sound I would ever hear. But that’s a lie. Children have two kinds of laughter. The first is the genuine kind, the kind my uncle was talking about. The other is the I’M-ABOUT-TO-DO-EVIL-SHIT laugh. The criminal mastermind laugh. Mwahahahahaha. I dread that laugh because it means someone is about to cry or something is about to fucking break. By the time a child is 4 or 5, this is pretty much the only kind of laugh you hear out of them. The girl began squeezing her brother tighter and tighter. My son was now even more upset than when she first hit him.

“Will you let him go?” I demanded.

But she didn’t. She picked him up off the floor, like a pro wrestler about to execute a belly-to-back suplex. I pried her little fingers apart and wrested her away from him, pushing her into the stairs. At this point, the boy was a sobbing mess.

I screamed at her, “What is wrong with you? Leave him alone, god dammit!”

She smiled and hugged me and said, “I love you.” She didn’t mean ANY of it, which only angered me further.

“Get off of me,” I told her. “You’re being insincere and I can’t stand it.”

But she wouldn’t stop hugging me. She grabbed on tight and let her entire body sag, nearly snapping my spine. Children do this all the time. They just HANG on you, like you’re a monkey bar. I shook her off and she began hitting me in the stomach. She was 5, so these were solid blows. She let out another horrible scream and filled the house with a thick, seemingly impenetrable kind of misery. I grabbed her and dragged her back up to her room and pinned her down on the carpet. She was laughing now. The angrier I got, the harder she laughed. I had to use every last ounce of willpower to restrain myself from kicking her ass because I very much wanted to. Inside me, there arose a voice—a voice so alien from my own that it seemed to belong to some other race of being. A terrifying, horrible voice. If my wife had heard that voice early in our relationship, she never would have married me. I grabbed the girl by the chin and blasted her with The Voice.

Some existential thoughts here:

The fact that I had resorted to grabbing and spanking and willfully inflicting harm on my own child made me feel like a criminal. I felt like, if someone had videotaped the whole episode, I would have been thrown in jail forever. Maybe I deserved to be there. Maybe everyone else was good at keeping their shit together and I wasn’t. I alone was the Worst Dad on Earth—the kind of dad that gets entire memoirs written about him by his kids, about living with him and his horrible demons. Maybe I was an abuser. Even telling you this story now, I feel like I’m edging off the details because I’m terrified of admitting how hard I grabbed my daughter’s arm. As a matter of fact, I smacked her once. I can’t tell you where or why because it makes me feel ugly and I don’t want you reading it and demanding that my kids be taken from me. I don’t remember my dad ever smacking me. He may have yelled a few times, but nothing that dramatic. Why was I so much worse of a parent? Why didn’t my kid respect and fear me the way I respected and feared my old man? Why did my children always require one more minute of patience than I had? And why was I losing my shit at a 5-year-old for acting like a 5-year-old?

So what does Drew decide to do next? Give his daughter a cold shower. Read on to see how it turned out.

Lastly, this analogy is apt:

When I was in middle school, they brought in a lady who had traveled to the South Pole to speak to us. She told us that, at one point during the trip, she became so cold and so desperate for food that she ate an entire stick of butter. We all were disgusted. But she was like, “Yeah, well, if you had been at the South Pole, you would have had butter for dinner too.” Parenting is similar in that you end up acting in ways that your younger self would have found repellent because the circumstances overwhelm you. What I’m basically saying is that having kids is like being stuck in Antarctica.What I’m basically saying is that having kids is like being stuck in Antarctica.

Except the example is mild compared to what I was expecting.

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