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Being a SINGLE DAD: The RECOGNITION of INFLUENCE

He once fit head to toe.  From my elbow to my fingertips.

In fact they all did.

I have 3 kids. They are awesome, spectacular and as close as they all are. They are very different. My girls, oldest and youngest, are very independent and motivated. My son, in the middle, is independent, but definitely needs a little more direction.

When their mom and I separated, they all seemed to transition pretty well. Just like anything else though, there was a calm before the storm.

At first things seemed to be alright. A few minor blow ups and freak outs. That was to be expected. All in all it seemed like we were going to be just fine.

About a year after we split, was when the problems at school started for my son. Some aggressive behaviour, lashing out, not taking direction or listening to his teachers and principals.

That year was nuts. I was getting a minimum of a phone call a week.  About him fighting or being verbally aggressive to authority figures and his peers.

The weird part was, that over all he’s a good kid. The other kids seemed to like him, going out of their way to say “Hi” when they saw him.  They genuinely seemed to like to interact with him.

Then again, all the physical issues seemed to happen during recess, while playing games. If they were playing tag, or whatever incarnation kids play now.  When conflict arose, like a disagreement over who tagged who. That’s when things would get physical.

It started with phone calls from teachers and principals. Then meetings with them. Then a brainstorming session with everyone involved.

We set up a plan with the school that consisted of sessions with the school councilor.  An open door policy with the vice principal and principal, allowing him to stay inside at recess if he chose. Ending with daily follow up phone calls for me, with his teacher.

It took some time to get rolling on his part but eventually he started to follow along. He really didn’t like getting in trouble, but he couldn’t stop lashing out once he started to get angry. I totally understood where he was coming from.  I am very familiar with managing anger. Removing yourself from situations and trying to change the thought process that instigates that rise and loss of control. I was totally on his side. With a devils advocate approach.

As a parent, some times, its hard to hear about the faults of your children and as much as we, sometimes, don’t want to recognize where they need to improve, that’s our sole job.

Being a single dad. I’m good cop, bad cop, circus clown, mentor and teacher all wrapped up in one. So I try as hard as possible to leave my emotions out of the equation and logically dissect the situation, in order to move towards the best solution for everyone.

As we went through this process, his interactions improved. His aggressiveness started to settle. He was still having issues but they were becoming less frequent. His attitude was changing, it was noticeable and so was his emotional state. He was much happier. More outgoing and considerably more talkative and informative.

When he first started getting in trouble. He would ball up, shut down and go silent. It would take days to get the information out of him. He felt like there was no point explaining himself, because he was going to get in trouble any way.

Being the bigger kid in his grade. Started to make him a bit of a target for trouble. Subsequently I started to notice a gravitation by some of the teachers (in my opinion) to take the easy route and blame him.

He and I got to a point where he could explain his side to me, then I would relay it to the school. He just didn’t feel comfortable talking to his teachers.  As we started to do this, it became apparent to me, that yes, even though he was having his troubles. There may be times when he is getting incorrectly labeled as the instigator or bad guy.

Well it all came to a head one day when he got into a fight while playing at recess. He and one of his class mates started fighting over a game of tag.

This is how it was relayed to me:

The school calls. Tells me they are suspending my son. He has got into a fight and kneed a another kid in the face. So I have to pick him up.

Upon picking him up from school:

The principals tell me that they didn’t want to suspend him. But they had no choice because the other parent had complained. Seems fair. I Wouldn’t want that to happen to my child. So I take him home. At this point he has not given his account of the incident.

As we drive. I explain that he needs to tell me his side. That way we can get an understanding of why he did what he did.  

Was he fighting to fight?  

Or was there something else going on?

At this point he is in the passenger seat, sulking. Rightly so. But I notice the scratches on his cheek and behind his ear. I know there is more to the story.

It took a few hours but he finally explains his side:

They had been playing tag. He thought he tagged the other kid. The other kid said he hadn’t.  They kept bickering while they got in line for class. Eventually they started pushing and shoving. The other kid grabs my sons ear and cheek (so he says) so my son grabbed the kids head and tried to knee him in the face.

Needless to say, but clearly there is some kind of middle ground in that story.  Both boys got aggressive both had physical marks on them.  Both had a hand in how the whole situation played out.  Either way, kids still need to understand the reasoning behind being accountable for their actions.

After our talk. I called the school spoke with the principals and relayed the story. Told them about the scratches on my sons cheek and ear,  then requested that they revisit the incident the following week with, both boys. I upheld the suspension with an agreement that the school would erase it from his record, after 1 yr of good behavior.

I guess you can add “Warden” to the list of hats I wear as a single dad.

The school did revisit it with the boys the following week.  They found out that in fact they had both gone after each other.

I think that was a bit of a revelation for my sons teachers. I think they started to see what I had proposed.  That he was getting the short end of the stick… some times.  

I am not the type of parent that believes my kids can do no wrong.  Trust me I have 3.  I’m really good at being referee and detective.  I’m one step away from starting my own CSI business.  Also… there’s a few more of the hats I wear. 

Things got considerably better after that. He made solid forward progress.  Stopped getting in trouble and started to learn the benefit of explaining himself, taking responsibility for his actions and emotions.

Then one last incident became the catalyst for his change. This time their was clear finger pointing and wrongful accusations.

Here’s the scenario:

I get a call from the school. My son is in trouble. He and his friends have buried a rock in the sand box. The friends call over another kid to kick the sand covered rock. The kicker doesn’t know there is a rock under the sand. Other kids in the vicinity, tell the kicker, not to do it. He kicks the pile of sand any way.  Basically stubbing his toe. No broken bones or bruises.

I’m told by the school.  That if he does not write an apology to the boy who kicked the rock, he will be suspended again. Now it’s fair to note that, upon investigation I find out my son had no idea that the other boys had planned this. The school confirmed this through their own investigation. Their concern was that he said nothing to stop the boy from kicking it.

Essentially the school wanted me to scold him for being a by standard. A bit of a mixed message, I thought.

So being the devils advocate I go through the discussion process with my son. By the end of his explanation.  I find out, he was unaware of the intent to hide the rock and have the other boy kick it. He did not speak up because others had and the boy still kicked the rock. He was still very unaware of why he was in trouble. Ultimately he wanted to write the apology letter, just to be done with it. This is where I stepped in, preventing him from doing so.

I call the school and set another meeting. Myself, his teacher and principal meet the following week.

I explain the logic behind not having him write the letter.  I find out that it was a third teacher that had requested he write it.  I felt that in this instance he had no malicious intent and was being included because of his reputation.  Which would ultimately jeopardize the strides he’s taken in his personal development.  

The principal, his teacher and I discuss the problematic nature of mixed signals in terms of the punishment. They agreed and absolved him of any wrong doing.

Through all that turmoil and slow progression I’m very proud to say he has completely changed.  Letting his little gentleman out. He’s 8 yrs old.  If he can make such a complete and accomplished change, any one can.

There were a lot of steps we had to go through, both him and I. I learned and changed as much as he did. I think he might have actually done the more complete job.

This is how we did it:

First we had to identify the issue. In the beginning it was definitely anger and anxiety. He is the type to ride on emotion. Just like his old man.

I had to regulate my emotions so he could better understand how to react. This was the mentoring part.

Second we had to break down the idea that a punishment is not a life or death sentence. But instead a learning tool to be better in our next interaction.

I had to learn how to execute proper follow through, create an appropriate and reflective punishment.  This is the good cop, bad cop part of the job.

Third we had to break down his misconceptions, that his side of the story didn’t matter. I had to prove to him that, he had someone supporting and standing up for him.

I had to learn how to be more removed and analytical with the authority figures in his life.  You can call me Professor Dad, thank you.

Finally he and I had to understand what emotion was triggering this type of behaviour.

After many, many discussions.  He explained, a major factor in his anxiety, frustration and anger.  Comes when he’s having fun.  It would remind him of the fun we had when his mom and I were together.  The conflict would then remind him of his mom and I splitting up, which in turn would push him towards lashing out.

This was heart breaking.  It also taught me that I was riding my emotions, more than I had recognized.  Now I had to find a way to be councilor as well.  Man, so many hats. I just hope I’m doing a good job.

We have made it through though. He has gone from Lex Luthor to Superman. He’s made such massive improvements in behavior that his principal has gone out of his way, to tell me how impressed and proud of him he is. His teacher has echoed the same statement and they’ve even gifted him with hockey tickets to watch our local OHL team.  He was very proud of himself that day.

He should be, I couldn’t be more impressed or proud of him myself. He’s inspired a new motivation in me to be a better more complete father and role model.  

Because of his capabilities I have noticed a trickle effect to me too.  I’m easier, more fluid when dealing with problems.  Less riding on emotion and much more compassion.  

Somewhere along the line I forgot to learn.  I became stagnant and complacent.  Not any more.  It was time to be the kind of man, father, friend and human that moves through life with poise, tolerance and the understanding that, lessons, motivation and personal growth can be gained/found anywhere at any time.  

You just have to look for it.

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4 replies »

  1. A thoroughly beautiful post! I loved that you were willing to listen to your child and reach solid ground together. It means so much to me to see a parent and child actually in a relationship as opposed to seeing the parent slam the door emotionally on their child.

    Like

  2. This was really good to read, children are so sensitive and you were so patient with your boy, I was so glad you stopped him from writing the apology, good thing you did that. Thanks for sharing your story.

    Like

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