Friday, September 6, 2013


     About a year ago, it started with my nine-year-old daughter—the most social of our three kids, then spread to the other two. The way she said, “Yeah,” with that up and down wandering lilt and body language that suggested, “You're so dumb if you don't already know that.” Or the way my oldest son flipped his hands up and bunched up his shoulders as if I were the most nitpicky person on the planet to ask him for the third time in a row to pick up his bedroom floor it's still a mess. Or the way my youngest son shouted to the other two, “Get in the house right now!” when we asked him to call them in for dinner.
     We do our best, telling him, “Don't ever make that arrogant gesture at me again!” Or her, “Not yeaheaeaeaeaea...” in exaggerated imitation. Or him, “Say that respectfully.” And by doling out time-outs and other appropriate discipline. Thankfully, they now watch themselves a lot better—at least around me, who will not tolerate it, finding it all repugnant and unacceptable.
     Sassiness, I think, is a manifestation of confidence gone amok: cockiness. A high school classmate had an annoying habit of snorting disbelief whenever asked a question or upon hearing some dumb, lame comment. “That guy is massive,” a friend might say to which he'd respond, “Hegh, that's nothing. You should see...” At times, I catch myself snorting just like that, or my wife saying, “Yeah,” a bit too sassily, and wonder, mortified, how long has this been going on? Have they been picking up such bad habits at least in part from us?
     A learned habit that my kids had great difficulty breaking was starting sentences with the word so. “So, the other day in class...” “So, what time are we leaving?” “Not so...” I'd tell them, over and over again, annoyed. Until, one day, I caught myself saying, “So when I was at work today...” I couldn't believe it. How long had I been doing this? Had they learned it from me? Awhile later, I was talking on the phone with a buddy from college—we converse about every other month and he's my best, longest, and truest friend—and he started sentences so this and so that, left and right. So he’s the culprit, I thought. I blamed him for passing on his bad habit to me, that my kids picked up on, and that they use all the time in the most inappropriate ways. He got defensive and mock outraged but was careful not to use the word so for the remainder of our conversation.     You get a lot of these shameful moments as parents—recognition of our own guilt in our kids' behaviors, for, as the old adage says, behaviors are most often caught, not taught. And kids pick up on the most subtle, unconscious things that we do and say, then reflect them back at us, almost mockingly. If only they would do as we say, not as we do, life would be so much easier. But then again, if that ever happened, from whence would we learn and grow so much?
     One of the best things about fatherhood is its forced me to be a better man because I can't tolerate the thought that they'll grow up like me. My cussing, an incorrigible habit since high school, went out the door when my son was three. Sloppy eating habits, awhile later. And I seldom ever begin a sentence anymore with the word so.

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