I knew right then I had the flu, even though, days later, I was fine, not another sneeze or other symptom to be found.
But horrible stuff happens all the time, so I wasn’t being ridiculous with my assumptions. Still, I wondered if my negativity was attracting the horrible stuff. There I go being negative again.
My 11-year-old son’s breath was a sign he wasn’t brushing and a sign that the dentist would surely have to perform several surgical extractions very, very soon.
And there I was, going from zero to 300 again.
“You have to brush your teeth better,” I told the kid while he was getting ready for bed one night. “And did you use soap in the shower? I can’t smell it.”
Later I checked the kid’s soap bottle—empty. I didn’t say a word. I waited for him to tell me there was no more soap. Two weeks later I had to let him know. He thought water was all he needed to get clean.
“What if he gets staph infections?” I said to my wife afterward. “Or lupus?”
“You can’t get lupus from not using soap,” she told me.
Maybe not, but the kid wasn’t going to get ahead in life by taking short cuts. I had to hold him accountable for his poor workmanship.
I bought soap and told him that if I didn’t smell it on him, I’d do the worst thing he could possibly imagine and make him take another shower. Same with his teeth brushing—if I didn’t find his work satisfactory, he’d have to brush them again and again until it was.
I had an image in my head of one horrible dad. I was looking just like him, not teaching my son how to do things right, just criticizing him for it.
I’d send him back to the sink and the shower at least three times a night. The kid was miserable, so much so I could use showering and teeth brushing as punishment for bad behavior.
“Why were you fooling around in class? Go brush your teeth. Keep it up and you’re gonna take a shower.”
Seeing this horrible image of me made me realize I had to make some changes. But then, one day, my son got all the plaque off his teeth. And he smelled new after every shower. Maybe I wasn’t such a horrible dad after all.
But horrible dads are like killers in slasher films—you can stab ‘em, shoot them, burn ‘em, tie ‘em to tactical ballistic missiles and fire ‘em into minefields, and they’ll keep popping up to get you. That horrible dad in me stopped checking my son’s work and, eventually, he was back to being on the brink of losing teeth and getting lupus. Horrible, horrible dad!
Why, at 11 years old, wasn’t my son self-sufficient? I was a horrible dad, and there was nothing I could do about it except embrace the horrible dad in me. Where was my dirty tee? And my beer? And, “Hand me that remote, I’ll be in front of the TV for two weeks straight.”
As days passed, the horrible dad in me kept telling me that I was doing all I could do. This imaginary character in my mind said the problem wasn’t me—it was my son. He said my boy was going to have to learn the hard way. He said the kid would learn soon enough. The horrible dad in me tried to make me feel better, but it wasn’t working.
That’s when I realized the horrible dad in me wasn’t so horrible. He cared about me and had ideas of my son doing better, which meant he had feelings after all.
The problem: My negativity was attracting the horrible stuff. What I needed was a positive attitude in order to attract the good stuff.
So I became optimistic about my horrible dadliness. If I was going to be horrible, then I was going to be amazingly horrible.
“If you don’t want to take a shower the right way,” I told my boy, “then I’ll wash you like when you were a baby, and then we’ll achieve cleanliness.”
The thought of me seeing him naked made him wash well. He even did a good job when I wasn’t checking his work. I knew this because I’d do the smell test on him when he was asleep. He began doing quality work in all areas of his life for fear I’d treat him like a 2-year-old. I let the good stuff roll.
My wife announced that she had the flu, even though it was just a sneeze.
“Why do you go from zero to 300 like that?” I asked her. “You gotta be more positive like me.”
“You used to care when I got sick.”
I had an image in my head of one horrible husband.
This story appeared in The Acorn Newspapers of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, CA, in February of 2015. You can find other stories like it from Michael Picarella in his book, “Everything Ever After (Confessions of a Family Man),” and at MichaelPicarellaColumn.com.