The “One-Note" Dad
Ephesians 6:4 (NIV) “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
Proverbs 15:1 (NIV) “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
Proverbs 12:18 (NKJV) “There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, But the tongue of the wise promotes health.”
Proverbs 12:18 (NLT) “Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing.”
Proverbs 12:18 (RSV) “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
I often substitute teach. The other day as I was leaving I saw some young boys getting in the car and one of the little boys was so excited to see me. I honestly couldn’t remember whether he was in my class that day or if I had met him on a previous substitute stint at the school. I also couldn’t see his face that well.
While he was waving his father turned around and with an angry scowling face and a scary-serious tone started saying “let me tell you something right now”. My heart sank. I wanted to beat his father up (smile).
I had just left a group of boys and girls that were so excited to see me. I had been their substitute over a month ago. I have had this experience many times. I experienced it to a much greater degree as a permanent teacher. I met so many children who were so thirsty for hugs, for affirmation for attention. I could tell which children did not get that from their father at home.
Maybe their dad was like the dad in the car. I don’t know that man, perhaps he was having a bad day or he was in a hurry. Again, I don’t know. I do know that the boy in the car was more excited to see me, a man that had been in his class for a day, than the man he was going home with.
In my mind, right or wrong, the dad in the car fit the profile of dads I have witnessed far too many times. I call this type of dad the “one-note” dad. Sometimes with beginning actors, we say they only have “one-note”. They may read a segment of a script and all that comes across is anger.
As new actors, they haven’t learned to have depth, variety or levels of intensity in their delivery. As a result, their delivery comes across as just angry, no humor, no softness, no approachability or humanity. Many dads are the same way.
They believe that to be a good dad that they have to yell. They believe that they have to have a scowl. Somewhere in their dad-education, they were told to ensure that everyone knows who’s in charge, where the boundaries are, that obedience is absolute.
That may be what they grew up with. Sadly, it’s the same junk that messed them up when they were kids. Somehow this type of dad forgot that the cry of his soul, the ache in his heart that wasn’t healed, was to hear his dad say I love you, to feel his dad’s kiss on his forehead, or hug around his back.
This type of dad forgot that he yearned for his dad to say “I’m proud of you son or good job”. The “one-note” dad believes that sentimentality promotes weakness. Jesus was a man that drove out the money changers in the temple with a whip yet let a woman wash His feet with her hair. Jesus told the disciples to let the little children come unto Him, and He embraced Peter after his greatest personal failure—denying Christ.
Jesus was more than a one-note man. He had levels and variety in His approach. Paul said that I have become all things to all men that I might win some (1 Corinthians 9:22). As fathers, our first responsibility is to win or reach those in our family. All of our children won’t be reached with the “angry dad” approach. We may actually succeed in “making them hard”, hard in their hearts toward us.
I can say from experience that it is a terrible hurt in your heart to try to climb over a wall of hardness that has been built in your son’s heart toward you. It’s taken me years to rebuild a relationship through kindness, love, and compassion that was damaged through the mentality I had as a dad.
There is a scene in Disney’s “Lion King” movie where Scar says something disrespectful to King Mufassa and Mufassa roars and says “Is that a challenge!” Mufassa then forces Scar to cower and submit. I see that played out in my head in some childhood episodes with my son. I was too insecure in my concept as a dad that I was threatened by his disobedience or his tone. As a result, I often was a one-note dad.
I remember getting to the point where I felt I didn’t need my dad anymore. As a young man, I built up a wall with a banner on it that said: “I don’t need you anymore”. It was horrifying to see the same wall, with the same banner, go up in my son’s life. As I alluded to earlier, it's taken years of kindness, compassion, sincerity, and other different “notes” to see the wall begun to be dismantled enough that my son and I can have a decent relationship.
Once a wall, like the type I have described, has been built, it can only be dismantled by the person who built it. Brick by brick it is dismantled as trust is built. Each brick that is pulled down, is pulled down with the notion that I can trust you more than I did before. I can trust that you have changed and you aren’t the “one-note ” dad that you used to be.
I have another analogy for this wall. This wall is like the house that the three little pigs built. In your one-note dad delivery, you may have huffed and puffed and blew down the straw and stick houses of their childhood and adolescence. But now as adults who have become familiar with your blustery one-note ways, they have built a hardened brick house around their heart that can never be penetrated by force.
For Reflection: Am I a one-note dad? Why? How did I get here? Why do I believe it is an effective approach? What did my dad do that was effective? What did he do that was ineffective? Why do I parent the way that I do? What do I need to do to be a better dad, to have more tools in my parenting tool bag? Who can help me?
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