Mattias: “Dad, I forgive you.”
Me: “But I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Mattias: “That’s okay. I forgive you anyway.”
-Mattias, 5 years, 1 month
I’m a big, gigantic jerk of a dad.
My son, Mattias, is a charmer. As introverted and crowd-averse as I am, he feeds off the energy of a group. His uncle Matt calls him “Slumdog Millionaire” because he’s convinced that, if you dropped him in the middle of Calcutta with nothing but the clothes on his back, he’d be running the joint inside of six months.
This particular day, Mattias was working on a smaller scale, charming his uncle Joe out of five bucks over a family dinner. The problem is that, about half the time, he loses the money before it makes it into his bank. So I offered to carry it for him while we were out running some errands later on.
He asked for it back after a while, and I explained that if he lost it, there were no refunds. I figured, though, that even losing the money was a lesson worth learning.
Sure enough, that evening at dinner, he dug into his pocket for his cash and found nothing.
“Dad,” he said, looking distressed, “I need my money back.”
“I already gave it to you, buddy,” I said, bracing for the inevitable fit to follow.
“No,” he said, raising both the pitch and volume of his voice, “you have it.”
“Remember how we talked about this?” I sat down with him, checking his pockets. “This is why I didn’t want you to carry your own money. Once it’s gone, it’s gone, dude.”
“I did NOT lose it!” he was pretty worked up at this point. “You had it, and YOU lost it!” His eyes got a little bit teary, though you could tell he was still trying to hold it together.
“Hey, don’t blame me for losing your money,” I said, trying to balance his distress with an even tone of voice. “Sometimes we lose stuff. It’s no fun, but that’s how we learn to be more careful.”
“No,” he stood up, shifting from plaintively desperate to confrontational, “YOU had it, YOU lost it, and I want it back!”
“All right,” I rubbed my eyes, trying not to get hooked by his tirade, “that’s enough. Go take a time out and think about how you’re talking to daddy.” He stomped over toward his Naughty Step, all the while grumbling audibly about my culpability and something about his displeasure for my stinkiness.
After a few minutes, he got the frustration out of his system and I let him out of the penalty box. As I try to do after his punishment, I gave him a hug and tried to talk him through why he got in trouble, and how he might avoid it the next time. He played along, if for no other reason than to get me to shut up so he could go back to watching the animated Christmas special that was on TV.
After a couple of commercial breaks, Mattias hopped off the couch and came over to my chair. “Dad,” he said, giving me a squeeze, “I love you, and I forgive you.”
“Thanks buddy,” I said, hugging him back, “but do you know what it means to forgive someone?”
“Kind of,” he said, staring at me with his big, blue saucer eyes. It’s a damn good thing this kid is so stinking cute; it may well add to his lifespan.
“It means you’re not staying upset at someone for something they did wrong.”
“Okay,” he said, giving me another hug, “then I forgive you.”
“But I didn’t do anything wrong,” I said, careful not to bring up the money specifically, for fear of starting another emotional conflagration I’d just as soon avoid.
“I forgive you anyway,” he smiled, and went back to his TV show.
Fair enough. Who am I, after all, to dissuade him from offering peace in his own way, even if it’s a little bit misdirected?
A couple hours later, as I was getting ready for bed, I emptied my pockets onto the bathroom counter, and tucked up in the corner of my right-hand pocket was a crumpled up five-dollar bill. I stared at the object in utter shame
“What’s the matter,” Amy asked. I held up the bill. “You’re kidding,” was all she said.
“I’m such a knob,” I said, setting his money down.
“So, what are you going to do?”
“I’m going to apologize to him of course.”
“Poor guy,” she frowned. “Five-year-olds just have no leverage to argue.”
“All right,” I said. “Thanks, but I already feel like enough of an asshole.”
“You should ask him what you can do to make it right.”
“Yeah,” I said, “good idea to basically open the door to a kid to let him exploit the moment.”
“Well, that’s what we teach him to say.”
“No,” I corrected her, “that’s what you teach him to say. I think an apology and admitting you’re wrong is good enough. I hate apologizing as it is.”
“Really? I didn’t know that about you.”
“In the Piatt clan,” I said, “the typical M.O. was just to ignore the transgression for a while until you could just pretend like it never happened.”
“Nice,” she shook her head.
“Hey, I didn’t say I was going to do it, but I’m sure as hell not going to go wake him up to apologize.” He was still asleep when I left for work the next morning, so I got to carry it around a little longer, which is awesome for a guy already feeling off-center about my own parental issues.
Amy’s right; this one probably is going to cost me a little.
Being the little five-year-old saint that he is, I could hardly finish apologizing before he was hugging and forgiving me. “It’s okay dad, I forgive you, again. I forgive you every time, and plus, even though it’s not Valentine’s Day, you can be my Valentine every day.”
“That’s very sweet,” I said, both grateful for his mercy, and even more embarrassed about my faux pas. “Thanks buddy.”
“But dad,” he said, pulling back and looking me in the eye, “I will remember this, and you will too. Every Christmas eve, until you die, you will remember this five dollar bill.”
Take wisdom wherever you can get it, I say. That includes kids who forgive you, even before you know you need it.
(Excerpted from Christian Piatt’s memoir, PregMANcy: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date, on faith, fatherhood and family)
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