A father’s winter of discontent

Angela Jacques photo

There’s something romantic about spring.

During the winter months, we’re subjected to savage cold and fierce winds. The perpetually grey skies mercilessly unleash a seemingly endless barrage of snow and sleet that transforms the landscape into a barren wasteland of frost and ice where no sane person would willingly tread.

But once spring arrives, everything changes.

The warmth of the April sun obliterates even the tallest snowbank, while the May rains wash away the season’s remnants of grime and salt. The world around us feels fresh and renewed.

But to get to spring, one must endure the unforgiving horror that is winter.

As a father, I’m currently suffering through a cold period of sorts. My four-year-old son Riley is currently buried within a brutal winter of discontent.

Where once he spoke sweetly and obediently, he now shouts and stamps his feet. Rebellion has become his behavioural staple, fueled by a seemingly miraculous talent of finding and diving into mischief.

And he hits now. Anytime he doesn’t get his way, he’s apt to slap or kick his parents. We have a zero-tolerance policy for hitting. He hits, he sits. That’s the rule, but he’s smart. And he has a great sense of humour, which makes disciplining him problematic.

Last week he was having a tantrum because he didn’t want to clean up his toys in the living room. He defiantly raised his hand to hit me, so I scooped him up and brought him within inches of my face and told him very sternly that if he hit me every single toy he had laying out would be thrown out harder than your average United Airlines passenger.

He started to flail his arms like a drunk penguin and accidently clipped my brow. His face dropped as I said: “Did you just hit me?”

Without any hesitation he looked me right in the eye and said: “No daddy. I just gave you a high five. To your head.”

For the record, it’s difficult to enforce a time-out while stifling laughter.

I understand that angst is a healthy part of growing up. He’s finding his independence and developing his personality, but I’m concerned because he also plays rough with his friends. He frequently provokes and teases them.

His mother and I have set boundaries, and we’ve been consistent with meting out appropriate punishments. We’ve also taken time to explain to him why hitting is wrong, how teasing hurts feelings and how his friends won’t want to play with him if he continues.

For a long time I thought our pleas were falling on deaf ears, but then something happened last week.

It was his first indoor soccer class and fortunately, two friends had signed up for the same activity. One is a beautiful little boy, smart and sweet but very shy in unfamiliar settings. I was worried Riley would antagonize him.

They were all sitting in a circle, and I saw Riley raise his hand. I was certain he was going to hit his friend.

But instead he grabbed his friend’s hand and gently held it. Riley was reassuring his buddy. In that instant, I felt a warmth I hadn’t felt in too long.

Maybe the pre-school stage is just like winter, a harsh experience one must endure in order to appreciate what comes next.