Painful Words

This is not an easy one for me because while the events were relatively innocuous, my own reaction to it was not. I’m, frankly, embarrassed by how I reacted, initially to what happened, but I’m hoping how I followed through with it made up for some of my short comings.

“So what the heck happened?” you’re wondering.

The other night, I snapped at Tanner, my oldest son. I snapped and called him a selfish schmuck.

Writing this is painful. I think about what must have gone through my son’s mind when his father snapped at him with those words. Notice how I did not bother to write them again.

So what is it that really prepares us to be responsible and effective parents? Beyond that question, what is responsible and effective parenting? The answers to these are not absolute; they can not be absolute. In this situation, however, a few of my numerous shortcomings were painfully revealed.

My greatest shortcoming in this situation: taking my unrelated frustrations out on my children.

Backstory is important in this. Within the course of the last nine months I have taken on far more volunteer activities than were prudent. It all started with one little request. Sure. I had time for it. It grew to two activities. I had time. Then a third. Sure, I could handle it. After all, both boys were in school full-time now. I had from 8:30 in the morning until 2:00 in the afternoon to get all of the things done I wanted to do. Given the status of the economy I did not have much work to do for the one client I still had back East, so, yes, I had time to dedicate to my children, and even with volunteering had time to still get my writing done.

Helping out in the boys’ classes. Sitting on school committees. These grew to include coaching two baseball teams, and becoming the director of the neighborhood swim team. Some of these, however, were activities that I had never had any thoughts of taking on.

And of course, once all of these new obligations were in full swing – two months ago – my best and oldest client approached me asking if I had time to ramp my level of work with them up from ten hours a month to 30 hours a week.

This is a good problem to have, right? Yes, except when the pressure from more than two or three of these volunteer obligations suddenly converge simultaneously. This is what happened Monday night.

After picking up the boys from school it was time to rush them over to the first day of swimming practice. Two hours later they were done with practice and I was realizing that I didn’t have anything for them to eat for dinner. The complication was that our refrigerator died last week. Thankfully we had a backup fridge in the garage, but no freezer, and there was nothing for dinner in the fridge, so off to the grocery store we three boys went.

“Quick, boys. What would you like for dinner?” They chose frozen dinners, which secretly relieved me, but I hate buying these things. After reading Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma I can’t stop thinking about the crap I’m letting my kids eat when I buy this kind of food.

We raced home with their frozen dinners, and I threw the first one in the microwave. Then I thought, “what the hell am I going to eat?”

I remembered seeing a left-over half of a chicken Parmesan sub in the garage fridge and grabbed that while the microwave was counting down the last minute. Coming back into the kitchen the microwave still had 30 seconds left. I placed the sandwich on the counter and looked at my watch.

Thirty minutes. I had 30 minutes until all of the ladies from the swim team management committee showed up at my house for a job that I knew I was doing in a woefully incomplete manner because I had allowed myself to become spread so thinly.

The microwave beeped completion. I went for the microwave to get the dinner for Tanner just as I heard him say behind me, “Whoa, this is good.”

Yes, he had taken a bite of the sandwich: my dinner.

The words just poured out. “That’s the only thing I have to eat for dinner tonight. You selfish little schmuck.”

I knew they were going to drink milk, and the milk was in the fridge in the garage so I went into the garage. Reaching the refrigerator I opened it and reached for the milk. I hit it in such a way that, yes, it fell: out of the refrigerator and onto the garage floor.

“Damn it!” I yelled.

Tanner came into the garage. “Dad, is everything OK?”

“I just spilled the milk. Come here, buddy.”

I knelt on my knees in front of Tanner, and took his hands in mine. He was crying lightly. “Dad, I don’t like it when you’re not happy.”

“You know those few times when something happened at school and you came home you took it out on your little brother and me?”


“Well that’s what I just did to you. Daddy signed up to help too many people with too many things and now I’m not doing anything well: not swim team, not coaching, not even being your dad. I’m so sorry I said what I did, Tanner. I hope you’ll forgive me.”

“Of course I will, dad.”

And we hugged, a good, meaningful hug, but nagging at me was that I had said what I did. It was out there. I had done it, and there was no taking it back.

All I could do now was prepare myself to make it through until June 9th, when the first of my volunteer obligations start to unwind and I get more time to work on being a better father.


RJ Lavallee is the author of IMHO (In My Humble Opinion): a guide to the benefits and dangers of today’s communication tools on sale at, Barnes and Noble, and

Leave a Reply