That is what I had planned to write, now that one great-grandchild has arrived and another great-grandchild is en route. Younger men feel a natural urge to become fathers; middle-aged men feel gratified to become grandfathers.
We geezers feel a biological imperative to dispense our hard-earned wisdom before the inevitable occurs and nobody ever listens to us again. Umm ... well, this geezer feels that imperative, or maybe it’s just an excuse to continue the bloviation I have dispensed in these spaces for a half-century.
So, “Don’t yell” is what I was going to offer as advice to new fathers.
That advice is ridiculous, of course. One of my sons illustrated its futility in a recent conversation.
Mike had been teaching Marcus, age 16, how to switch lanes on a busy stretch of interstate highway during a Thanksgiving trip.
“I told him to move to the right, because we needed to get into that lane,” said Mike.
“When he turned to look to the right, the car drifted to the left,” and into a dangerous vulnerability of being hit by oncoming traffic, Mike said.
“I told him ... no, I yelled at him!” said Mike.
Marcus successfully completed the maneuver. Mike later apologized for yelling. Marcus accepted the apology.
That is good advice to new dads: When you yell, make sure it is out of necessity and not out of pure anger or frustration, and if you overreact, let your child know it later on.
Of course, if you yell a half-dozen times a day over tripped-over shoes, your apologies will soon sound hollow.
I did the most damage to my children by yelling at them.
Patience is not my strong suit. My name is Denny, not Job. At one time, I had six kids at home, ranging in age from driving-age teens to infants in diapers. This is guaranteed to increase tensions, which increases the likelihood of yelling. Also, my heritage is Italian – loud Italian.
That explains yelling at children, but it does not excuse it.
Don’t yell – but don’t beat yourself up too badly if you fail once in awhile, especially from fear, anxiety or uncertainty.
“You were supposed to have been home an hour ago!” I would shout.
I shouted because I had been scared that the child had been harmed, not because the child was late.
I could have simply stated, “You were supposed to have been home by now. What happened?” without yelling.
I could have not yelled.
Too often, I did yell.
In a crisis, men are especially susceptible to the fight-or-flight instinctive reflex. The cave man buried deep inside of us wants to shout, “Run!” or “We have to fight, right now!”
Yelling is not always wrong. Sometimes, it is necessary, because imminent, life-threatening, danger demands totally focused attention. Yelling does drown out almost everything else, even cell phone texting.
But sometimes we men yell when there really is not danger. Sometimes, we yell when we should speak – authoritatively but not aggressively.
I tried, not always successfully, to delay imposing punishments until after my anger/fear impulses had come back under control.
“Go to your room and sit on your bed! I’ll be up to deal with you directly!” I tried to say. Sometimes, I actually did.
Ironically, especially with small children, the need to banish the child for a few minutes is sometimes because we want to convey our warning with sincerity – and we need an interval to suppress our impulse to laugh out loud, because what the child did, though wrong, was clearly hilarious.
Greg taught me a lot about “Don’t yell.”
Greg, now 40, has Down syndrome. If I yell at him, even today, he freezes. It takes him time to process, “Dad is yelling at me. Why?”
Almost always, he is clearly, obviously crushed. His mouth gets all square, his shoulders sag. Sometimes, tears form in his eyes.
All kids feel like that when parents yell. Most learn to not show their hurt feelings. Greg never did.
I could see how I hurt him by yelling. That benefited Natalie, younger than Greg, but the acquired wisdom came too late to be of much use to Chris, Mike, Matt and Theresa.
On occasion, hurting Greg by yelling was justified, e.g., “Stop! Right now!” when he was about to step into a roadway with a car hurtling toward us.
Even so, when the danger has passed, a hug is often in order.
So, from this great-grandpa to new fathers out there, if I had it to do over again in raising sons and daughters, I would have devoted time during pregnancy to practicing “Don’t yell.”
Yelling is not failing, per se. Sometimes it is necessary.
But kindness is always good.
One other piece of advice: Enjoy the heck out of your children. They can be the best thing that ever happened to you.
❑ ❑ ❑
Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: email@example.com