It either has already happened to you, or you forgot about it. Being wrong and getting mad at someone else over it. Maybe it was directions that didn’t get followed because you forgot to give them. Maybe it was following the directions you gave that turned out to be bad from the start. No matter what the situation everyone gets to be wrong. Things get out of hand when you’re wrong and you are mad at someone else for it. Like yelling at the foreman because you smashed your thumb with your hammer.
They say that it takes a real man to admit when he is wrong, but as far as your family goes it takes more than that. In the family, a “father” can ‘man up’ and say something was his fault. It’s easy to admit that you smashed your thumb with your hammer, especially later when the situation was well behind you. Maybe at the end of the day when all you have is the bruise to remind you. And your boss has already forgotten you lashing out at him for your own mistake.
What if that bruise isn’t on your thumb? What if it is in the heart of your child? Words hurt, and for younger children, they hurt more than most. So what is a man to do? The difference here is subtle, but it makes the difference between being a father and crossing over to becoming a dad.
The dishwasher didn’t get emptied. You could have sworn that you told him to do it before dinner. He knows that emptying it is his chore. But by now you should know he needs reminders. But it didn’t happen nonetheless, so a skipped chore is a skipped chore. There are consequences, and you enforce them, whatever they are, maybe no dessert. “I forgot! I forgot! Please! I forgot!”
“No dessert and you give me any more sass and it’ll be no dessert tomorrow too. Now brush your teeth and go to bed.” Tears will inevitably ensue, perhaps some stomping and tacked on consequences. Then later you realize, perhaps with a kind reminder from your loving wife, that you didn’t tell him to empty the dishwasher before dinner.
And now you are at a crossroads, so to speak. Are you going to simply be the father of the child and assert “This is his chore, he should know it by now” mantra? What would a real dad do?
A man achieves ‘dadhood’ when he is humble enough to admit his own mistakes. If we want them to know that humility is not a weakness, but strength, then what is a man to do?
A true dad brings two slices of pie into his boy’s bedroom and says, “Son, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have gotten so angry with you. I forgot to remind you about the dishes tonight. I know you would have done them if I’d have reminded you. Let’s have dessert together and I’ll take care of the dishes.”
You may think that this act will somehow downgrade you to mere mortal status in the eyes of your children, but that simple act of taking ownership of your mistakes is going to have long-lasting ripple effects. It is the power of teaching by action.
What lessons do your actions reveal? Honesty. Integrity. Humility. These are lessons that cannot be taught like teaching them how to change the oil in the car. They can only truly be learned by observing you in action. The path of dadhood is many things, but teaching by actions plays a huge role. Just think of the difference between admission and apology.
“I forgot to remind you tonight, but this is your chore and you should know that.” – versus – “I’m sorry, I didn’t remember to remind you about the dishes. That was my fault. Come back to the table for dessert.”
One of those two is going to humanize you in front of your family. You are not an infallible dictator who refuses to follow through when mistakes are made. But that you are a flesh-and-blood mortal man who recognizes his limitations and can accept them. It also means you know that a bruise to your little one’s heart needs swift action to heal properly. If you delay or neglect to apologize altogether the damage will be worse.
So when it comes to your family we shouldn’t say “man up and admit your mistakes”, we should say “dad up and apologize for them.”
Because any man can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a dad.