There’s only one word to describe your dad getting shot a dozen times: cool. I was twelve. The cost of terrible violence was more than just unknown to me-it was negligible. I never doubted Dad would live. He could put footballs into orbit, just like Superman. Only good things came from the shooting: my sixth grade popularity profile went way up and, bonus, my family got on national television. That was the peak. The comedown was finding out Dad was human after all-fallible.
He saw the world simply. Matters of faith were matters of fact to him. It frustrated us both that I so desperately sought a deeper, seemingly elusive understanding of things. Then, when I was nineteen and serving as a missionary, Dad was killed. I’ve never been as distraught or learned so much about faith and forgiveness as I did during the week that followed.
That’s all for now, I’m just super excited about this and wanted to make sure you saw it. I think the cover is perfect and I could not be happier with it. Thank you, those of you who read the chapters on this very website and encouraged me to resubmit to a publisher. That was definitely the right call!
Parents are terrible. You know this incontrovertible fact if you’ve ever read any published memoir about growing up. There’s one universal theme to all of them: the parents should be arrested and the key thrown away for the cruelty they inflicted on their progeny, the writer. If you were a space alien and the only thing you knew about the parenting practices of earthlings was what you read in books like The Glass Castle and Running With Scissors, you’d be justifiably horrified and immediately set about liberating the youth of the world through abduction (wait a minute, you don’t think…?). In fact, for a lot of coming-of-age memoirs, that literally is what the book is about: all-time, world class, terrible parenting. It’s the very best revenge anyone ever devised against all the therapy they had to shell out for later: immortalizing the parental misdeeds in print.
I suppose there’s a universality to that experience, and it certainly makes for good copy, but it’s pretty far from my own experience and, at the very least, the experiences of most people who belong to the same Church I do* (aka the culture I’m most familiar with). I tend to think there are more decent parents out there than bad, and I’ll hold up my own as a good, if imperfect, example.
*I say this having conducted no studies and done no polls, so I’m speaking mostly from experience and observation. The Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church teachings provide a solid foundation for highly functional families. Any parents who draw from that deep, deep well are bound to get it more right than wrong.
Which brings up a good question: If I’ve written an entire book (tentative title: The Other Side of Fear) about my own growing up and my parents are a big part of it, how is the story I’m telling in any way interesting or exciting?
I guess it’s not. Save for a handful of chapters, my parents and I largely get along.
So, boring book.
I’m being a little facetious. Once you throw in the shootings, the murder, the bullies, the helicopters circling our house at 1am, the flooded city, the thief my dad runs down, the missionary tales, and everything else, you don’t really need to ladle bad parenting on top to have an interesting and exciting story. But bad parenting? No, that’s not really one of the ingredients I’m cooking with. My story is about growing up through through difficult things with good parents.
People clamor for good, clean, positive stories, but they flock to conflict and the controversial. These types of stories are not mutually exclusive, but they can be difficult to bring together, depending on the market and the audience, and, most importantly, the writer. Those who traffic in positivity can be afraid to let the real world in for fear they’re not being positive or uplifting enough. Their stories, consequently, can be, yeah, super boring. Meanwhile, those who focus mostly on conflict and controversy can easily choke out anything positive, or simply dismiss such notions altogether for fear of “watering down” or because their worldview doesn’t allow for it in the first place. I’m talking extremes here. The pendulum doesn’t only swing one way or the other, but I would argue that the mainstream creative world encourages a more cynical form of storytelling than not, and for good reason: it sells. At least, that’s the current thinking.
And I think it’s that kind of thinking that leads mainstream publishing towards bad parenting and cynical, isn’t-life-horrible? narratives, and away from any kind of positive, uplifting, religious narrative, even when done in a way that’s inclusive (another topic for another time).
I am not a fan of extreme positivity or extreme cynicism. Speaking of religion, I think good stories are like a religious life well-lived: accepting of the reality of the actual world we occupy while acknowledging the hope and reality that is above this world. It’s only when you combine the two things together that you get a story that is truly true and resonates and moves and uplifts and entertains and enlightens and encourages. You get your conflict and your controversy, and you slam it up against hope and positivity, and you end up with something that is dynamic. That isn’t so one-note and serves a defensible purpose.
My parents are both very human in the telling. They have flaws and foibles and quirks and maybe do not-so-great things because they are not perfect, godly beings. But, if I’ve done my job correctly, it all makes them more endearing than anything. There to prove them real and relatable, not to take them down. I can’t present them as real people if I only speak of them positively. And being real is the only way to get at the truth.
In other news…I’ve done a lot of the homework publisher Cedar Fort assigned me to get the book ready for publication. Writing my bio, submitting my author photo, etc. One of the big tasks that will take months to complete is reaching out to people for “endorsements.” These are the blurbs you read on the backs of books from people with some reputation whose praise you can trust. It’s a huge favor to ask someone of influence to read your book and appraise it, so I was a bit nervous to go out and ask. I hate asking for favors.
But, I’ve already gotten three “Yes” responses back! I can’t wait to share with you who they are (they’re very, very cool), but that feels premature right now and there’s always the chance they could read the manuscript, not like it, decline to offer their endorsement, and ask for monetary compensation for time wasted (wait…that’s not a thing, right?). But still, they’re willing to take a shot. Which is awesome.
Last week, Erin sat me down on the swing at our back patio and we had a “come to Jesus” moment. She, like a good spouse, chose not the heat of the moment, but a time separated by hours from my increasingly ill behavior. She gave it to me straight: I’m angry all the time, I’m on a hair trigger, the kids are afraid of me, and I’ve made the house an extremely unpleasant place to live in–to the point that sometimes she takes the long way home from dropping our oldest off at junior high just to avoid the scene that ensues daily when I berate our youngest for not knowing where her shoes are and making us late for her preschool.
It was a huge gut punch. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt so small and low. I’m not a crier, but I started to cry then because I had no defense to give. Erin was 100% right. I was making our home a miserable place. Worse, I kind of knew I was doing it. She wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t know, but I think, in the back of my mind, I had somehow convinced myself I was okay to be this way because a) pressures and b) no one was saying anything about it.
Well, of course they weren’t. They were rightfully afraid to talk to me.
The bulk of our conversation that night dealt with why I was behaving this way. I don’t want to go too deep into that, but suffice it to say that I’m not great at being a stay-at-home dad (Erin kindly reminded me it took her years to be any good at being a stay-at-home mom) and the external pressures that come from work and achievement and failure were getting to me. Or rather, I was letting them get to me. I actually thought that since things were so hard for me right now that it was okay for me to be a bit of a jerk. It was justified.
Which, of course, I was not. I was operating from an incredibly unkind, selfish place, especially since Erin has been working on her Master’s Degree for the past year, a work that requires you to stand on your head and recite the Constitution backwards while cats lick milk off the bottom of your feet. Or something. It’s hard, that’s all I know. I was making things even harder.
My wife had popped my delusional bubble. I recognized my behavior as the sort of thing that would slowly force my family to retreat from me, which, of course, they kind of were doing already. I needed to dial things back in a big way. So, I told Erin the most cliched thing a person can possibly say in a moment like that: I will change. I could tell she didn’t exactly believe me.
The thing is, I meant it. 100%. (This is a common thing: I tend to apologize and change my mind very quickly. If I can see the logic of something, it’s very rare that I wait for my emotions to catch up.) I was sick of myself. I was sick of being angry and I was sick about what I was doing to my girls and my wife. I had hurt them. Not physically, but I had hurt them. I needed to not just turn the truck around, I needed to throw that sucker in reverse and floor the gas pedal until this big heap of selfish garbage I had built up was just a speck through the windshield.
I made a decision to stop letting my emotions–particularly the rage-filled ones–take over. The benefit just wasn’t there. I was able to do this for one, simple reason: my family’s emotions and perception of me is more important than my need to vent or act out frustration. I needed to sacrifice that release of anger on the altar of their precious feelings to give them a chance to like me again, and to not damage them or my relationship with them.
Basically, even though nothing really changed about my circumstances, I made a conscious effort to let go of my anger over it all.
That has not been terribly easy, but it has been terribly worth it. I’ve gone six days without a blow-up and the spirit in our house is radically different. I think, as fathers, we underestimate our impact. I know society does. But I’ve gotten a crash course in just how much I matter to my family, and how invested they are in my spiritual and mental wellbeing. Everything is different around here now, which illustrates quite clearly that I was almost entirely responsible for the tension in our home over the past couple months. It’s a sobering realization.
I had never thought of myself as a bad father. I honestly didn’t think I was capable. I thought if there’s one thing I can do well, it’s be a father. People have even told me, in the recent past, that I am a good father. I hoped I was worthy of that. I kind of thought I was. But, I was wrong.
I’m sure there’s someone out there for whom their progression is a nice straight line that reaches continually upward, but for me it’s a rocky thing, filled with peaks and valleys. Just when I think I’ve got one thing licked, some other issue pops up and takes the wind out of my sails. This all crept up on me, and none of it fit my perception of myself. I’m still learning all the time, even as I approach 40, who I am and what I’m capable of, for good and for ill.
My prayer–and this is always my prayer–is that whatever my moment-to-moment progression is, the trend, at least, is upwards. I feel better today than I have in a long, long while. There’s still a ton of stuff I need to work on, but, in simply letting go of the justifications and the outsized emotions that have been holding me back in those most important of roles, father and husband, I feel like I grabbed hold of a valuable piece of the happiness puzzle this week.
You also had a lot to say about it. So, let’s talk. You go first.
“This will change nothing and help no one”
Maybe! But let’s give it a shot anyway. Can’t hurt to try.
“…As a man and used to be boy this Dad knows full well that at one time his life he probably did and said some of the same things these boys he talks about says and does… maybe you should go out and buy her clothes that’s a little too big so these boys you talk can’t see what your little girl’s body looks like. Remember the old saying Dad boys will be boys.”
First of all, me trying to buy my daughter clothes is a non-starter. I don’t even know her size.
Second of all, I’ve always hated the phrase “Boys will be boys.” It’s simply not true. When I was a boy, I didn’t make inappropriate comments towards girls about their bodies. I just didn’t do it. And if I didn’t do it and other boys didn’t do it (trust me, I wasn’t alone), then this isn’t a boys-will-be-boys situation. It’s a misogynistic-jerkfaces-will-be-misogynistic-jerkfaces situation. It’s a learned behavior.
The cool thing is that a Misogynistic Jerkface can change and become something else. He can stop saying stupid stuff and become a man.
“Wonderful, another whiner that doesn’t like something that someone did… Tell her to get over it… Where is the picture of this girl? Is there something wrong or is there something right?”
I humbly submit I wasn’t whining. A lot of you also accused me of being offended. Honestly, I don’t really get offended. Taking offense is a waste of time. I identified a problem and suggested that it should be corrected. Isn’t that a good thing? It’s certainly not whining.
Wait, I just read that back… are you saying you want to see a picture of my daughter’s butt?
“Butt, where’s the photo?”
You are asking to see a picture of my daughter’s butt. This is so weird.
“Well? Where’s the picture of her butt?”
Guys! She’s 13! Do you even think about this stuff before you type it?
“I can only imagine she is probably dressing provocatively.”
Why is that? Why is that my daughter dressed provocatively the only thing you can imagine as the reason for the boys’ comments? My wife had a great response to this. Let’s remember together:
“…actually she dresses extremely modestly. What is most concerning is that… people like you suggest it must be her fault this is why we have a rape culture.”
She makes a good point. Why isn’t the automatic go-to when unthinking boys spit out their garbage words, “I can only imagine those boys are rude and haven’t been taught proper respect for the opposite gender”? No, instead the Men of the Internet blame the girl. In the past couple of days, there have been lots of these comments directly blaming my daughter. For something boys did. This happens with nothing else.
“Sorry, officer, I was driving just fine until that cat jumped over that bush. I was so surprised, I swerved into oncoming traffic. Stupid cat, right? C’mon, let’s go find her together and arrest her!”
“We do not have a rape culture, that is a myth.”
Y’know, honestly, I used to think rape culture was a myth, too. Then I posted a blog asking boys to stop talking about my daughter’s butt and you guys showed me I was very, very wrong.* It was like Nessie held a press conference only to tell us she’s not real.
Look, I still hate the term “rape culture.” It’s incendiary and off-putting (but then, so is rape). I keep thinking there’s got to be a better term for it, but it is a real thing–it’s this idea that how we talk about women has real consequences. Here’s one, partial definition:
In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm . . .
In other words, violence against women starts with stuff like “Boys will be boys.” When you normalize inappropriate behavior as inevitable, you create an environment where people aren’t as responsible for that behavior–and that leads to more bad behavior. If a Junior High boy feels bold enough to cuss at my daughter and comment on her butt, if he isn’t stopped and corrected, where does that lead? Maybe he’ll grow out of it, but maybe that’s the beginning of a path that leads to rape. No one wakes up one day and says, “I think I will rape today.” But a violent disposition towards women starts somewhere. It starts with a dismissive and unsympathetic attitude towards women’s feeling and experiences that places the responsibility for bad behavior towards women on the women themselves.
Did that sound convoluted? That’s because it is.
“…Girls wear very little during the summer, use profane language…have sex/drug parties. It’s no wonder young boys think it’s perfectly alright to appraise a girls butt and anything else.”
I love the world that’s being painted here. So, basically, the Earth would be full of virtuous, righteous boys if it weren’t for the sexy, decadent girls making it so hard to not talk about their butts?
Look, do I think girls should dress modestly and that the sexualization of even the youngest girls is a problem? Of course I do! Do I think that absolves boys of bad behavior? No. That’s like saying my little brother took my toy away so I had to hit him. That’s baby reasoning.
Men of the Internet, your logic is that of a toddler.
“So, you never looked at a girls butt? Tell your slut daughter not to wear clothing that accentuates her butt whether it is a good one or a bad one. Out of sight is out of mind to a hormone raging boy.”
So much to unpack here. Let’s break out the numbers.
I have looked at girls’ butts. You got me. I’m a heterosexual male and attraction leads me to appreciate the female form. However, I do make an effort to control my thoughts. In controlling my thoughts, I control my actions and, amazingly, I manage to not tell women what I think of their butts. I know, I know. It’s like, what? How do I do it? I’m a freakin’ unicorn, that’s how. (Except I’m not. I just respect women, like so many other guys who would never think of calling a woman a “slut.” Speaking of which…)
Straight up, you owe my daughter an apology. You don’t call any woman a slut. You don’t do it. It’s matter of respect. Men of the Internet, you messed up today. Big time.
No girl who works so hard to find shorts that extend to her knees can ever be accused of wearing clothing that accentuates her butt. You have no idea who you’re talking about. You have no idea what my wife and I have taught our daughter.
I’ll grant you that immodest clothing makes it difficult to keep thoughts pure, but out of sight is not out of mind. A hormone raging boy has a pretty good imagination.
I want to thank you, Men of the Internet. You’ve really opened my eyes. Rape culture is a real thing. Not a great name, but a real thing.
You’re so willing to give the boys the benefit of the doubt that you’ll characterize my modestly dressed daughter as “provocative” and a “slut” with zero evidence. Literally, all you knew about her from what I wrote was that she’s 13 and she told me what some boys said about her body. All you know about the boys is that they made some inappropriate remarks. How are they the automatic good guys in this scenario?
Do you get it? Do you see that the way women dress is not what this is about? It’s about how men choose to treat women, full stop. Women don’t make men treat them badly. That’s so asinine.
I think all this defending of the boys and all this demonizing and shaming of my daughter and girls in general comes down to this: you recognize yourselves and you feel attacked. Who are the boys who said these things to my daughter going to grow up to be? They’re going to grow up to be you. I’m talking about you and you don’t like it.
So, you strike back. And who’s your target? Why, the girls of course. That’s who you know to blame.
The anger boggles my mind.Why is the idea that we place more value on the feelings of our girls than the whims of boys with big mouths so offensive to you? What is it about what I’m saying that you’re really so upset about? I’m not a Progressive or a Social Justice Warrior or anything else you accused me of this past weekend. I’m a conservative Mormon dad who was raised with no sisters in a house where gun control was the devil’s program designed to take away our freedoms.
“This should stop something which has been going on since the dawn of time.”
You say this has been going on forever and it will never stop. Well, I think you’re probably right. As long as the perpetrators of this behavior–you–do nothing to teach your sons better, it will keep going.
But that doesn’t mean I’m wasting my time with these letters. Just because you’re not listening, doesn’t mean no one is listening. I’ve heard from a couple people already who were inspired to sit down with their sons to have a heart-to-heart and I’m told it went well. That’s some kids right there, changed.
Men of the Internet, I would like to humbly suggest that a heart-to-heart with your sons is what is needed. Even an immodestly dressed young woman is still, completely and thoroughly, a daughter of God. She has His love. She deserves your respect. If you’re not teaching your sons about these things, chances are, to one degree or another, she’s not getting that respect.
Whatever you decide to do, can you at least do this much for me?
Stop calling my daughter a slut.
Because that word is just the worst. Seriously.
Some Girl’s Dad
*Well done! You’ve probably given some Women’s Studies major just what she needed to complete her thesis.
Violet loves to eat slowly. Scratch that, she loves to talk, jump around on her chair, change her shoes, give hugs to her sisters, sing Adele’s “Hello,” twirl, walk our dog Batman on a leash around the house, talk, jump on the furniture, lose her tiny glasses, go to the bathroom, talk, draw on our chalk table, tell me all about Jesus, talk, ask for drinks of water, talk, and talk–all between bites.
You’ve never seen a tiny bowl of Apples and Cinnamon oatmeal* endure so long on a table with a spoon in it. Quite often, it ceases to be breakfast and turns into an fossilized artifact of some long, lost civilization where people went hungry because Jake and the Neverland Pirates was on TV.
*Which, in her defense, is kind of gross.
I, of course, handle this terribly. I often remind Violet of external pressures that might lead her to feel a bit more inspired to get a move on–like time. I say things like, “We have to leave in five minutes or we’ll be late for school.” Since five-year-olds have no concept of time whatsoever, she pretends to take this very seriously and then proceeds to chase our dogs around the living room with a lightsaber.
Another tactic I sometimes use is to tell her how truly great that oatmeal is. It’s SO delicious. If she doesn’t get to it quick, I’m going to eat it. This has literally never worked.
Other times–less prouder moments–I try to intimidate Violet. I tell her how upset I am. I sigh loudly. I even hit the table for emphasis on the word “GOT.” As in, “You’ve GOT to eat. Please, please, PLEASE, eat!!” This also never works. What usually happens–because I’m a 5’10” man and she’s a sub 4′ little girl–is that she starts doing that frozen, shaking thing. Her big eyes look into mine and she doesn’t know what to do. My heightened frustration is intimidating to her, and it incapacitates her.
Technically, Violet does chew at an appropriate speed. I’ve seen food go into her mouth and within what seems like a suitable amount of time it does appear to go down her throat. (I swear it happens, but don’t ask me for proof. Violet eating is like Sasquatch running through a forest–we all know it happens, but the camera lens refuses it.)
What finally seems to work is to tell Violet how many bites she has left and then let her count them out. There’s something about that limit–that boundary she can operate within–that gives her enough calm and comfort to proceed to eat like a human girl and not a caffeinated monkey bouncing all over the house. She likes knowing when it will end instead of being overwhelmed by what to her is a mountain of food. It doesn’t even matter how many bites I tell her she has to eat–I could say three bites or five or ten and I could even even say they have to be big bites–she’ll eat every last one of them with a speed on the human side of the Human-Sloth Scale, and then she’s done. And we get to school on time.
I don’t know why I’m so slow to remember this tactic each and every time Violet sits down for a meal. It probably has something to do with the fact that I want Violet to eat appropriately in the first place, and not through trickery. But trickery is Parenting 101. I should know this–I should remember this. Violet is hardly my first slow eater. Watching my oldest inhale food now like she’s been learning at the feet of our vacuum should give me a bit more patience and faith.
I’m working on it. Violet is working on it. We’ll get there. In the meantime, I’m gonna buy better tasting oatmeal.
When my 13-year-old gets in the car after school and I ask her how her day went, there are certain things I expect to hear. A brief sample:
“The test was hard.”
“I got my report card back and I’m not ashamed to show it to you.”
“I have sooooo much homework. Can we get Slurpees?”
What I don’t expect to hear–what I don’t want to hear is that she got made fun of in first period for her clothing choices and that in second period she got “catcalled.”
“What do you mean ‘catcalled?'” I asked her just today. “What did they say to you?”
“They cussed at me,” she said. “Something about my butt.”
“Was it positive or negative?” (This doesn’t matter. I asked in the futile hope for a silver lining.)
“I… I don’t even know. For some reason, people like to talk about my body.”
Make no mistake here, “people” is (mostly*) “boys.” This isn’t the first time something like this has happened as these reports are growing all too familiar. My daughter has heard assorted, sordid opinions on the relative attractiveness of everything from her hair to her knees (yes, knees). And who knows what else. It’s not like talking to her dad about this stuff is the most fun thing in the world. I usually have to drag it out of her.
My wife and I are doing our darndest to raise a daughter with a positive body image. We kind of have to, and we all know why. From magazine covers to Kim Kardashian Instagram photos to pornography (and I realize I may have just written ‘pornography’ three times), it’s almost impossible to not have an unrealistic view of what women should look like. It’s a lot of work combatting all that garbage–and it’s important we do. We’d rather our daughter not have, say, eating issues or think badly of herself for entirely superficial reasons that don’t have one single, solitary, stupid thing to do with who she is as a person. Boys of the World, would you please stop trying to screw up our efforts?
When you say my daughter’s knees look like “baby faces” (they don’t–and what does that even mean? I guess if you’re an 8th Grade boy it’s a bad thing) or that her butt is too whatever (it isn’t), you’re not only being disrespectful to her (which I know you don’t care about), but you’re messing with her mind. You’re shaping what she thinks of herself–digging at the most obvious, surface level part of herself that she has, for the most part, no control over–and you’re telling her what a woman should REALLY look like. I guarantee that whatever image you’ve conjured up in your still-developing brain is pretty dang unrealistic. Unattainable, even. And that’s dangerous.
Do you know what a woman should look like? It’s so simple, I’ll tell you in three words: However. She. Looks.
You, Boys of the World, are not entitled to an opinion on the subject. Not one you can voice, certainly. You don’t get to contaminate my daughter’s mind with your girl-of-the-month ideas. As stupid as those ideas are, they stick around. They infect. Luckily, my daughter is one of the most self-assured people I’ve ever met. When I asked her if any of these garbage opinions bother her she said, “No, not really.” She’s strong like that. But I wonder… as she gets older and starts dating and going to dances and living more in the world… I wonder if these comments won’t come back to haunt her. And I wonder about girls who aren’t like her who are dealing with insecurities or struggling with their weight or who don’t have parents working as hard to build them up when others seem to only want to tear them down.
This is such a uniquely feminine problem. Exactly two comments were made to me about my appearance in high school and I’ve never forgotten them. My daughter gets more than that in one day.
Look, I get it. I was in Junior High and High School once, too. I was obsessed with girls and their bodies. It’s what happens. But I remember also having a healthy fear of girls and a sense that I had to be, y’know, decent towards them. All my friends did. Did something change, or did I run with a gentler crowd?
Either way, who cares? You’re commenting on girls’ bodies and it’s not okay. Any specific comment–good or bad–my advice is to just stay away from all of that. You’re not equipped, Boys of the World. You’ve got no idea how to do it appropriately. You want to know the first time you can actually comment on a girl’s appearance, safely? I’ll tell you. It’s when you pick her up for a date, and here’s what you say:
“You look nice.”
That’s it. That’s your how-to manual for not being a misogynistic jerkface.
And, just in case you think you’re getting away with it, I’d like you to know I know who you are. You’re the unthinking punk and the meathead jock, sure, but you’re also the boy in my daughter’s Sunday School class who runs with the wrong crowd, and the kid at school who has a crush on her and doesn’t know to express it. You’re the class clown who makes everything into a joke and goes too far. You’re the nice boy who just doesn’t know better.
I invite you to know better. I invite you to value the feelings and long term self worth of one of God’s daughters over the laughter of your friends. There’s no reason you have to continue on like this, Boys of the World. I’ll grant you’re still learning. That’s cool. Consider this a small lesson from me to you:
Stop talking about my daughter’s butt.
Some Girl’s Dad
*Shout-out to the Girls of the World: stop talking about my daughter’s thighs. (That’s a whole ‘nother blog.)