Not saying “sorry” to your kid is a thing, apparently. A thing parents actually do. On purpose. For what illogical reasons I can only guess: to be tough, to be dominant, to show no sign of weakness?
I cannot imagine not being upfront and honest with my kids, or with anyone really, and admitting fault, asking for forgiveness and apologizing. I’m no less strong a man or parent for having said “I’m sorry.”
“If There Is No Struggle, There Is No Progress” — Frederick Douglass
The brilliant 19th century abolitionist wasn’t referring to raising children or to the relative hardships of a 20th century white middle-class young man either, but his words have come to define my existence and helped shape not only my world view but also my life as a dad to a pair of daughters. Parenting will, at times, be difficult and mistakes will undoubtedly be made, but if we acknowledge and look to pull lessons out of those struggles, they may lead to progress. Another great man once said true love travels on a gravel road, and I’d add that you have to recognize the bumpiness along the way to come out the other side better for the experience. This is why I apologize to my kids when I screw up.
Being an omniscient tour de force of a father was never my calling because living on a shaky pedestal is a hindrance to evolution in the role. I don’t want to be a dad who always has to be right, I want to be a man who’s always looking to improve as a dad.
There’s a story my mom still tells of my most flamboyant, youthful indiscretion. I was 17, driving with no car insurance, an expired registration and a suspended license as a result of the first two — The Holy Trinity of stupid. I was then pulled over for speeding in a school zone. My mother quickly realized the officer who hit the traffic stop jackpot that day was a customer of the locally owned pharmacy where she worked. He offered leniency as a result of this good relationship but I declined. I was in the wrong and didn’t want a “get out of jail free” card (note: I was not under arrest, but the metaphor still works). I accepted the one-year suspension of my driver’s license and hefty fine, and said sorry to him and to my parents. I was a fool and knew that I needed to learn the hard way from my mistakes.
I went on to make more mistakes as a husband and a father, and in every case I apologized to those aggrieved, even if they were 18 months or 11 years of age. I apologize to my kids when I am wrong because what would I be teaching them if I stubbornly dug in to defend my flawed position? Nothing good, that’s what. There’s a time to be steadfast and strong, but it is not when you are wrong or when you’ve messed something up for someone you love and who loves you. That is precisely the time to take personal responsibility and own up to the error, to talk it out, apologize, grow and make progress as a person and as a parent. These are the lessons and the mindset I am trying to pass on to my daughters every time I am upfront with them and apologize; the understanding that you will be wrong and make mistakes in life but refusing to admit fault will never make you right. That stubborn behavior and refusal to apologize will only damage relationships, even and maybe especially those with your children.
I pride myself on being extremely reliable to my wife and kids, but sometimes I don’t deliver on promises made; whether it’s not remembering to pick up a library book for my oldest girl before we leave for vacation or missing my youngest daughter’s second-grade class party. I could easily make excuses or worse, deny ever agreeing to do or attend those things but my kids would always know the truth and will begin to see their daddy cast with shadows where there was once only light. And for what — to project some kind of manufactured outward strength? That’s asinine. I am not made weaker by apologizing to my kids when an apology is called for. In fact, quite the opposite. My willingness to say “I’m sorry” when I’m in the wrong moves me into a position of greater strength and of enhanced trustworthiness. My daughters will know their dad is putting it all on the line, all of the time, so that if, by chance, I once again fail to keep a promise or make some other mistake, they’ll expect and demand nothing but the truth, a request for a hug and a heartfelt apology from a dad who respects and loves them too much to deny them that; a dad who wants progress from struggle.