For some reason or another I’ve determined to constantly show my children that I love them. I do this by telling them straight up, almost everyday ‘I love you’ or by wrapping them up in my arms and giving them a cuddle. Often it’s both at the same time. There’s other ways I show affection too. I make them some food, buy them a gift or spend time with them playing games.
But I prioritise saying I love you and giving them hugs because this is the unambiguous foundation on which all other expressions of my love is built. I often tell them to come over to me and give me a hug. I command it. And I do it because I want it to be normal that they are affectionate with their dad when they are teenagers and adults.
I also command it because generally I need to. They jump in bed with Keira and I in the morning to cuddle with us (mostly Keira) but throughout the day they tend to themselves and look at their parents as people who are there to do things for them. Yes they love me but I still need to lead them and initiate acts of affection.
There’s one exception (actually two but I will focus on just one here) to this tendency for my need to initiate a hug between myself and my children. Several nights ago I got quite angry with my sons. I yelled. I intimidated. I know I scared one of them and the other I sent to his room out of frustration. It was punishment disproportionate to their actions. I felt uneasy about my actions and I faced a choice.
I could go to them and tell them how wrong they were and guilt manipulate them into giving me an apology. Basically I could double down on the choice I made and be the ‘strong decisive leader who never makes mistakes.’ Or, I could humble myself and apologise to them.
I got them in one at a time and spoke with them individually that I was feeling frustrated and upset but that in no way excused my behaviour to them. I said that I’m still learning to be a better father, that I was sorry and would they forgive me? Both times I apologised they each stepped forward, gave me a hug and said ‘I love you dad’.
My sons treated me with grace after I had been graceless with them. They showed me love after I had been harsh. They initiated physical affection after I had demonstrated frustration. It would not have happened this way if I had chosen to not apologise. I don’t like to think what would have happened in their hearts had I not.
It wasn’t easy or natural for me to apologise to my sons. I don’t think its easy or human nature to apologise. But I saw how it changed the dynamic in my relationship with my children. There’s a great security that comes from knowing someone who leads you knows they are not perfect, makes mistakes and is willing to own up to them. There’s has to be something powerful about apologising. Normally I need to ask my kids to hug me. This time I didn’t.