“If you don’t read me the I Spy book, I’m going to smash your face in until you’re dead.”
Tonight, like most nights, my son wanted to ‘read the I Spy book’, which means he wants to find the same tokens that he’s always found in the same book he’s always looked at. To be honest, I Spy books are garbage. They don’t involve any skill, and nothing is learned except a virtue of patience (if you are open to learning it). I had already told him that I would not ‘read him’ said I Spy book, and spent the afternoon/evening (alone, my wife is out of town) downloading a few new games on the iPad for him, wrestling with him, buying pizza and cinnamon sticks for him and Guinevere, watching a movie, playing ball, watching him and Guinevere pretend to be Grandpa Lester and Aunt Julie, and reading two books of their choosing before bed time. He was over-tired, like he has been most days these days as we have all but completely phased out nap-time. I knew this, and instead of resorting to violence (i.e. picking him up and carrying him to his bedroom), I walked away.
He followed me to his room, and said, “If you don’t read me the I Spy book, I’m going to smash your face in until you’re dead.”
My four year old just threatened my life if he didn’t get his way. Where did he learn that?
This kid is four years old, and I have done my best to teach him to be kind and loving. I could spend my words blaming our culture (which is mostly full of violence, from kids apps on the iPad to kids television shows), and I might be right. But instead, I’m going to focus on how I have taught violence to my child, even though I claim to be at best a pacifist and at least a non-violent person.
Yesterday, I forced a shirt onto my son. It was one of those situations that all parents must be familiar with: He was being an irrational emotional wreck (or acting his age), and we needed to get him dressed to go out the door. He refused. He fought with my wife, who then asked me to take over. Instead of trying to treat him with respect, instead of listening to what he might have to say about either the shirt or the situation, I just grabbed him and forced his shirt over his head and his arms into the sleeves. I acted violently towards my son, and I taught him a lesson: When you are bigger and stronger, you can do whatever you want to the weaker and smaller people in your life. Violent action gets results. Non-violence is often time-consuming, impractical, and difficult.
Now, before you call 1-800-25-ABUSE and report me, understand that this isn’t a pattern. It isn’t even a regular occurrence. But in my worst moments as a dad, I choose (this kind of) violence instead of negotiation, listening, and patience. You probably don’t, and I commend you for it. You’re probably a saint. However, I’ve never threatened my children with violent words like the one’s my son directed towards me. I really have no idea where that came from. It should be noted that he wasn’t actually serious, and he quickly asked if he could keep his door open, crawled into bed, and fell asleep within 10 minutes. All without any violence actually occurring.
One of my heroes is being celebrated tomorrow for his ethic of non-violence. I think it’s kind of poetic that my son just threatened my life the night before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It’s also ironic that our culture of violence takes a day to remember the man whose counter-cultural actions of non-violent resistance changed history (at least a little bit). He definitely didn’t change our culture. We still celebrate violence every single day – in our video games, our movies, our television shows, and our football games.
Is it possible that MLK’s dream could become a reality? Is it possible that I will choose non-violence in my own life? Is it possible that my son could learn to act non-violently towards others someday? It’s a big dream, and it’s one that gives me pause tonight, trying to discern how I can walk the talk as a father so that my son can become the man I want him to be someday – someone who will change things because he knows that each and every person, whether friend or enemy, white or black, strong or weak, is to be loved and respected as one who bears the image of God.
It starts with me.