I am a dad of three children: a six year old girl, a four-and-a-half year old son, and a nearly two year old son. I like to think of myself as a ‘family man’ as I can remember their names and birthdays. I enjoy giving not just presents to my children but sharing my presence with my children. However, I recently learned that my powerful presence is not always appreciated.
'Daddy! You smell disgusting!'
These words were uttered by my straight talking four-and-a-half year old son. His face was screwed up tight like a champion gurning competitor, or one of those ugly mug finger puppets from the 80s.
It was 7am and we were in the children’s bedroom. My wife was supporting our daughter getting dressed for school and our youngest was pottering around looking mischievous. I had my eldest son's uniform beside me. I was crouching down to his level attempting to help him dress. He looked at me with utter disdain and
then acted out vomiting. To add insult to injury he then held his nose and stretched out his arm to pluck his shirt from my hands saying:
'I can dress myself this morning.'
I had contradictory feelings. On the one hand his desire for independent dressing was a big plus. On the other hand, his motivation was not an embrace of his own power. No, he just wanted me to have a shower.
I instinctively reached out to him to restore our failing connection. All I achieved, however, was to accelerate the break as he pulled away because I inadvertently enveloped him with more ‘Dad dust’. I was banished from a room in my own house by my own child. I attempted to muster up some dignity....
'We should love each other whether we smell nice or not.'
There was no response from my boy and as I wondered away into the corridor my six year old daughter piped up. She had been the soul of discretion until that point but she now giggled and shouted, 'Bye bye Stinky Pete!'
Stinky Pete? Stinky Pete?! That flatulent character from Toy Story 2? Well, now I was cross. How dare they compare me with that methane megalomaniac! I wanted to run back into their room and zoom around, arms outstretched like an aerial crop duster and fertilise their cheeky little faces.
As a bruised and match-weary man I made my way to the shower to cleanse my body, and settle my panicked questioning mind. 'Was I always smelly? Had my son and daughter been guarding the family secret and now enough was enough? Was my wife also attempting to protect my feelings? Was my odour the reason my toddler sometimes cried when I cuddled him? My eldest son has asthma. Could I have been the unwitting cause?
I was consumed with a self consciousness as I replayed the incident. My wife at least had offered a sympathetic look but hadn't corrected my son's accusations. After dressing in a cold, empty bedroom, (my wife had opened the window) I wandered down for breakfast. My son looked up and said:
'Well done Daddy. You don't smell anymore.'
Well, he didn't say I smelt nice, just that I didn't smell bad. It was an improvement on twenty minutes before and I was surprised at how much I wanted my family’s approval. It has caused me to think, what else am I releasing into the atmosphere that I'm unaware of? How are my stinky attitudes, or stinky words or put downs, or stinky moods effecting my family? When I'm preoccupied and not emotionally available to play, or listen, or simply be does that add a toxin to the air we breathe?
I realize now that my friends act as a slightly more sophisticated and gentle smell test. We have a group of friends called The Life Village who form a community of support around our children. We invited them to play a part in our children’s lives when they were born and they each contribute a skill to help nurture our children. Having them around forms a check on some of my odour-emitting tendencies.
For example, my wife and I were having some challenges with one of our children and we asked the Life Village if they could give us some advice. What came back were a number of gentle suggestions; challenging to hear, yet willingly received by us. We reflected and there were probably a few things that we were doing that were letting off a bit of a Stinky Pete smell and this wasn’t helping our child’s behaviour. We hadn’t noticed but we took the advice to heart and found that things improved.
The pressures of modern life with three children can also mean that sometimes I’m not emotionally available to my children when they need me to be. I know this can sometimes omit a toxin that my children dislike. What I love about the Life Village is that there are others in our children’s lives who love to spend quality time with them, to be emotionally present and to listen and play with them. This hopefully wafts a few perfumed scents around their noses more often. Last week there were screams of playful delight emerging from the lounge as Life Villager Tony played a game of crocodile with our children and his own and they ran, hid, chased and rolled around the room. I was able to recharge my batteries and came back, figuratively speaking, smelling sweet to my children’s noses.
As I find the courage to ask my friends in the Life Village to help me to be a better father, and as I share my knowing mistakes, their compassionate critique is cleansing; a fetid father arrives but a fresher father leaves. So hopefully one day I can say: 'Bye bye Stinky Pete!'
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