Ma, Ma, Where's My Pa?
Father's Day phone conversation. This actually took place the week before Father's Day, but it is apt. Non-Derb names have been changed to protect the innocent.
Me: Hello? Is this Mrs. Scolari?
She: Who? No! Who are you looking for?
Me: Well, I have a class list here from my son's kindergarten class. It lists this number for Jimmy Scolari. My son's classmate.
She: Oh. Well, yes, my son's name is Scolari, but that's not my name.
Me: I'm sorry. So You're Jimmy's Mom?
Me: Well, here's the thing. My son came home with a bruise on his face. I asked him what happened. He said Jimmy hit him.
She: Were there any witnesses?
Me: I don't know. Look, Danny's a truthful boy. He says Jimmy hit him for no reason and then ran off.
She: Well, I've had a lot of problems with Jimmy. He's a very aggressive child.
Me: I know. I've heard. But, see, I've got the opposite problem. My boy's small and kind of timid. I'm trying to get him to stand up for himself. I'm trying to get it into his head that if someone hits him, he should hit back. It just hasn't taken yet. When it does though, then maybe Jimmy will come home with a black eye. Just want to give you fair warning.
She [wearily]: You know, I often wish some other kid would give Jimmy a black eye. It might teach him a lesson. Parents nowadays, they tell their kids not to hit back.
Me: Well, I definitely want Danny to hit back, and that's what I'm teaching him to do. Trouble is, it's uphill. Against his nature. Like I said, he's naturally timid. So, you see, we've both got a problem here. I just wanted to get in touch to let you know our side of it.
She: I'd gladly trade your problem for mine.
Me: Well, sure. I can see …
She: Jimmy got expelled from his afternoon program. Too aggressive, they said. Now I have to pick him up from school at 2:30. I'm a single mother, trying to hold down a job. My boss doesn't like it, I can see, that I have to take time off like this.
Me: Well, I'm sorry. I didn't …
She: Jimmy's on medication now. It's a lot easier. I'm surprised if he's still doing that kind of thing. He's been much easier to handle since the medication. But still I have to pick him up. I'm going to lose my job, I can tell.
Me: I'm sorry. I'm really sorry.
She: Sure. Hey, thanks for calling, I guess.
1. "Parents nowadays, they tell their kids not to hit back" — what's that all about? Do parents really tell their kids that? Their boys? What is this, the Summer of Love, for goodness' sake? It's a jungle out there. If someone hits you, hit back, without delay or apology. Is there any more basic rule of life?
2. The stats on fatherless boys. (The literature is vast, and it all says the same thing. If you want to check it out, a good start is the University of Pennsylvania's National Center on Fathers and Families, from which I extracted all the following.)
- Children with fathers are twice as likely to stay in school.
- Boys with two parents at home are half as likely to be incarcerated, regardless of their parents' income or educational level.
- Paternal praise is associated with better behavior and achievement in school.
- Father absence increases vulnerability and aggressiveness in young children, particularly boys.
- Young children living without dads married to their moms are five times as likely to be poor and ten times as likely to be extremely poor.
- Fatherless children are at a dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse
Was the state of the marriage really so dire the Scolaris had to point little Jimmy into these 120 m.p.h. statistical headwinds of desperation and failure? Couldn't they have worked things out somehow? Must have liked each other at some point, after all. What happened to "staying together for the sake of the kids"? My own parents did exactly that; and, looking back with the cold eye of adult knowledge at other kids' parents, I don't think it was an uncommon thing. God bless them all for it.
Zuo ma zuo niu, say the Chinese: "We are horses and oxen for our kids." This is all very unfair, of course. I don't know anything about Jimmy's Mom and Dad — ex-Dad, whatever. Anyway, their lives are none of my business. They've got their problem, I've got mine.
3. When all else fails with kids, fall back on bribery. Danny likes ice cream more than anything else. I have now promised him ice cream every day for a week, at the place in the village, the place we go to for a special treat, if, the next time he gets punched, he punches back so hard that he gets sent to the office and the school calls me in. And if, for bonus points, he can bop the aggressor right square on the nose and cause a nosebleed — two weeks' ice cream. But I want to see the blood. Ice cream for blood. I shall probably get my name on some FBI database for writing this.
4. Anyone who endorses, encourages or promotes single motherhood as a "lifestyle option" should be sewn into a heavy leather sack with lots of broken glass and rolled down a l-o-n-g slope.