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Kevin ClarkeNovember 08, 2010

The Clarke progeny have to endure a weekday media desert before reaching the flat-screen promised land of the weekend. That means new cinematic selections often go into heavy rotation right after they’re downloaded, and inquiries about repeat viewings are frequent, with much agony, imploring and occasional, actual 4-year-old foot-stomping. In recent weekends, “How to Train Your Dragon” has been scheduled for well-attended, multiple showings.

The antics of the sensitive Viking wannabe Hiccup, who is ultimately too kindly and wise to treat dragons in the Viking way—that is, as irredeemable enemies—has quickly become part of the backdrop to my day. The backyard is the frequent scene of live action reinterpretations, and any old time of day is the right time for unprovoked outbursts of Hiccupian dialogue. Just this Saturday, cocking a head in my direction and focusing his disconcerting baby blues on me (not something that comes easily to him), my second-born began apropos of nothing, “You know, Papa, Hiccup’s papa?” Yes, I was acquainted with the imposing Stoick, the Viking father whose body and expectations loom over the slightish Hiccup. “He said to Hiccup that Hiccup wasn’t his son.” Stop. Stare. Wait.

About a half hour later, he starts again. “You know, Papa, Hiccup’s papa?” Still do, I tell him. “He swam all the way down into the water to save Hiccup.”

Now, I am no parental greenhorn; I know that everything a 6-year-old says, however much it may appear heavy with meaning, is not always actually heavy with meaning. Sometimes they just say things; sometimes, I think, they just say things to enjoy the spectacle of you trying to figure out in what way their completely random comment is heavy with meaning.

I also know that el Segundo has been having a hard time of late, and so have I, with him. The reservoir of patience within me has gone bone-dry, and I have been struggling for ways to replenish it. I have not been successful.

I have been snappish when I should have been kind; angry and shouty when I should have been restrained and comforting. They are not easy for him, many of the things that are easy for other kids. But it can be exasperating as a parent to walk him through the same routines each day with little indication of progress. It shames me to admit that lately, around my demanding offspring, I would not be mistaken for Robert Young.

And I know how profound and enduring the small wounds of childhood can be. Discussing bullying around the editorial table at America, I listen to a Jesuit describing an incident from his childhood that, if my chronological guess is correct, took place sometime before World War II. I know I cannot protect my children from all such things, but surely I can prevent myself from inflicting one or two of them, can’t I?

I hope so. In our church the kind and merciful God I am hoping to raise my children to rely on and find comfort in is, let’s face it, depicted almost exclusively in terms most fatherly. When the kids scrape around for a suitable image for this loving father, I guess I must be the first one that comes to mind, God help us. That is assuredly a lot to live up to. So when el Segundo asks me did I know that Hiccup’s papa says he wasn’t his son and did I know that Hiccup’s papa swam all the way down into the ocean to save him, I take no chances. “I would never say that you are not my son,” I tell him, and “I would give my life for you and more, that is how much I love you,” I say to him and rattle through a small prayer to help restore that reservoir that has—temporarily I hope—drained from me:

“Merciful father, forgive me when I have failed so often to do it; help me to be a model of your patience and love for my children. Amen.”

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Anna Seidler
12 years 3 months ago
A very good response to your six year old, son, Mr. Clarke, even though it isn't always easy to come up with the most thoughtful comment.  Sounds as though he needed reassuring that he was still much loved by his Dad.  Looking into the causes of the behavior of children sometimes makes an appropriate response possible.

Thanks for the thoughtful article.  We who have had children remember those days.  
Anna M. Seidler 
12 years 3 months ago
As a father of three and grandfather to six, I understand very well Kevin Clarke's prayer, "Merciful Father, forgive me when I have failed; help me to be a model of your patience and love for my children. Amen"

Children and grandchildren can certainly try the patience of their fathers and grandfathers. Parents too, at both levels can also try the patience of their children. But where love exists, forgiveness persists.

Parenting is not an easy job, a domestic reality Mary and Joseph discovered for sure,  when at Twelve their son "took off" without letting them know. What anxiety they must have experienced, even feelings of guilt, maybe. As a dad I know the feeling - one of utter panic, the day at the beach when my oldest son was little, suddenly "took off" on his own, one little boy among tens of thousands at the beach! A group of us scattered and thank God he was safely found, not in the Temple talking to theologians, but at the water's edge playing in the sand!

At times kids become teachers to their fathers and grandfathers. Like the time I smacked one of my boys on his leg for mouthing off at me. "Dad, why did you hit me?" he asked. Responding I said, "Because I'm your father and I have the right to punish you for wrongdoing." With whithering logic my son replied, "Dad, kids have right too!" Well, I never forgot that lesson and smacking ended forever!

Yeah, it aint easy Kevin, being a Dad and believe me parenting never ends. But  it's wonderful being a dad and now a granddad and somehow things work out if love leads. By the way, based on what you wrote. I'd say you're a great dad!  

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