For fathers, roughhousing with your kids is a rite of passage. Dads love nothing more than horsing around with their kids (much too many a mother’s chagrin). We use our kids to practice our favorite wrestling moves, shit we remember from old movies, and stuff we just make up out of our heads. It’s in our DNA. It’s in our blood. It’s just who we are. But sometimes we take it too far and that’s when all hell breaks loose.
Now, no dad (no good dad, anyway) would intentionally hurt his child. Roughhousing is meant to be fun. It’s our way of bonding with our children. We encourage them to jump on us. We challenge them to chase us. And we promise that nothing bad will come of it, until it does. And that’s when we know we’ve taken it too far.
|Roughhousing is just part of being a dad...|
All I wanted to do was body slam my 2-year-old daughter on her Grandma’s couch. It’s nothing we hadn’t done before at home. I took all the precautions. I did everything in slow motion. I cradled her neck. I lowered her gradually. I did everything I could to ensure we were being safe, but I forgot one thing: grandma’s couch isn’t quite the same as Daddy’s. For one, it has a lot less cushioning, especially on the arm rests, and although I dropped my daughter’s body on the softest part of the couch, her head seemed to find the hardest.
And, it wasn’t like my daughter cried right away; it took a few seconds for her and I both to realize what Daddy had done. For all she knew Daddy dropped her on her head. It wasn’t intentional. It wasn’t because he wasn’t being careful. Daddy made a mistake- in front of his wife’s entire family at Friday night dinner- and he was most certainly about to pay for it.
Wailing ensued. I quickly lifted my daughter in to my arms. “Sorry baby” I said, as I rocked her in my arms. But “sorry” doesn’t seem to mean much to a screaming child, writhing in pain because her father might have inadvertently dropped her on her head. Oddly, it means even less to your wife when she realizes your bone-headedness (not a word) is to blame. “Give me my child” she says, as she takes her from your arms and turns her back on you.
“What happened?” She asks
“Daddy dropped me on my head” your child says.
“He did” says your wife, giving you the evil eye. “Well, I’m sure he didn’t mean it.”
And, so you explain yourself for the next ten minutes, first to your wife, then to her mom, and her dad, and her siblings, and your five-year-old niece- anybody who will listen to you. You tell the story again and again, picking your actions apart trying to figure out how you might have done it all differently. But what’s done is done.
You child is now calm. Her cries slowing to mere whimpers as you walk up to her to say you’re sorry, yet again. But she turns away from you, milking the moment as she hides her face in her mother’s armpit. “I’m sorry!” you scream, letting out a nervous laugh so you yourself don’t cry.
“She hates me,” you say to your wife.
“She doesn’t hate you,” says your wife, “she just no longer trusts you.”
“Great!” you say. “I broke my child.”
“Leave her,” says your wife, “she’ll forget it in a few minutes. “
So you do, and she doesn’t, instead she turns to anyone who will listen so she can tell them that her Daddy dropped her on her head. She’ll turn, almost growling at you as she points and says “There he is! He did it. My Daddy dropped me on my head. He’s a bad, bad Daddy.” And, it hurts you, deeply, the thought that you, your little girl’s protector, might be responsible for any amount of pain that she must endure. It literally stabs you, right through the heart, the idea that you are responsible for her tears.
You say it again, and again, and again, but your offer of apology falls on deaf ears- your child’s, your wife’s, your conscience. You fucked up. You didn’t mean to- it was all in good fun- but you miscalculated all the variables and it cost you; it cost your daughter.
You wait hours, days, weeks for her to forget. You say sorry, over and over, hoping she will finally forgive you and you can move on. But it’s hard. She will forgive you, but you will always be “the guy who dropped her on her head at Grandma’s house,” and that she will never forget… and neither will all the people either she or your wife will tell in the days, weeks or months to come.
You want to roughhouse with your kids? Oh you’ll be sorry all right, but with millions of other dads body slamming their kids on couches every single day, you’ll never be alone. And your kid (my kid in this case) well she still loves you, even if you are a “the worst daddy ever!”…today anyways.
Disclaimer: No children where hurt during the making of this post... purposefully.