When I was young, I came into possession of a worn copy of the Faber Book of Reportage. Nestled within its brittle pages, I found a most intriguing instance of creative parenting, dating back some 500 years.
It was a frigid day and five-year-old Benvenuto Cellini’s father was warming himself by a fire. He was softly singing when he happened to glance into the searing flames before him. What he saw caused him to bellow for Benvenuto and his sister.
They rushed into the room and saw their father pointing excitedly into the fire. There, warming itself in burning embers, was a salamander.
At this point the father did something unexpected to commemorate the occasion. He smacked his son upside the head. Hard. The boy howled in surprise. His father explained he hit his son to make sure he remembered that extraordinary sight for the rest of his life.
His dad then kissed him and gave him some money.
Now today this probably wouldn’t fly, but it does show that even centuries ago, parents realized there was a connection between unnecessary pain and learning opportunities.
I say parents, but I suppose I mean dads.
My son’s mother is excellent at explaining the benefits and consequences of any given action.
Me? Not so much.
Comedian Christopher Titus aptly summarized my views on fatherhood when he said, “a mother will give you knowledge. A father will make you earn knowledge.” To illustrate his point, he jokes about the time his mother was about to stop him from putting a penny in a light socket.
Before she could, his father interrupted her. “Well, go on,” he urged. To make a long story short, the punchline was “Anybody who says a penny doesn’t go far didn’t see me shoot across the floor.”
My dad was the same way. For him to give me fatherly advice, precisely two criteria had to be met. One, my life had to be in immediate mortal danger, and two, he had to be able to dispense it without getting off the couch.
One year, I refused to wear a toque or mitts to school on the coldest day of the year. That’s just how 11-year-old me rolled. Dad suggested I put them on and then smirked when I shrugged him off.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered I was going on a field trip to an outdoor festival. For four hours straight.
When I came home, Dad didn’t say anything. I think. My ears were too numb to register sound, but I wore my toque and mitts everyday after that.
Which brings me to my kid. My kid is smart and brimming with sass. And he likes to chirp. Below is a Facebook post of mine about a time when I decided to imbue my kid with a little life lesson. I’ll let you, dear reader, infer what lesson I was trying to teach.
At home with a sick kid. His eyes are sunken in, hollow from lack of sleep. But he still wants to play. Fine. I grab a ball and pass it to him. He kicks it towards me and I sweetly let it pass by.
“Score!” He laughs so hard and his eyes light up. I’m happy he’s happy, but then …
“Daddy, you’re such a loser.”
I narrow my eyes and toss the ball back to him. Hard. He tries to kick it, but it rolls under his foot. He trips on it, hits his head against a wall and crumples in heap of shock and tears.
A good dad would have scooped him up, kissed him and asked him if he’s OK.
I am not a good dad.
Instead, I slowly walk over to him, look him in his tear-stained eyes and drop the ball into his lap and say:
“Who’s the loser now?”
Then I went and had a cookie, because I’m a winner and that’s what winners do.