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Dad Daze: Rising above the drama from the trauma

Irish Francisco, 5, of Americus, Ga., scrapes together snow to make a snowball near the entrance to Point Park on Lookout Mountain during the snowfall on Feb. 16, 2021, near Chattanooga, Tenn.  (Matt Hamilton/Chattanooga Times Free Press)
Irish Francisco, 5, of Americus, Ga., scrapes together snow to make a snowball near the entrance to Point Park on Lookout Mountain during the snowfall on Feb. 16, 2021, near Chattanooga, Tenn. (Matt Hamilton/Chattanooga Times Free Press)

While watching a father throw a snowball at his little boy after the last storm, I chuckled and asked my son Milo if he remembered when I greeted him with a snowball after leaving his elementary school.

“Remember?” Milo asked incredulously. “I’ll never forget it. It might have been the worst experience of my childhood.” I thought Milo was joking. How could something as innocuous as firing a frosty sphere 25 yards from the school door at my son be so bad?

“Whenever there was snow outside, I worried about getting drilled,” Milo explained. “It was embarrassing. It wasn’t like I was just by myself. I would leave school with friends, and other kids would be around, and I would just take off.”

Milo, who is now 15, would slowly slip out of the school scanning the area where I might be lurking. If he spotted me, he would run serpentine. I never knew my snowball-throwing antics bothered him.

“Did your dad ever do anything to you that he thought was innocent but left you in a state of trauma?” Milo asked.

Oh my gosh, did he ever! Many childhood memories are traumatic. My first memory, I swear this is true, was when I was crawling on the floor as a baby, and my dad was on his hands and knees on top of me. It was horrible since this big, hairy behemoth eclipsed, well, everything in my little world. I couldn’t speak.

There is no home movie footage or photos of my dad doing the baby crawl. I asked my father about it when I was a teenager. “What makes you bring that up?” he asked. “You actually remember that?”

When I was 2 years old, I boarded the back of a bike while my dad pedaled me through the scenic Atlantic City boardwalk. It was an idyllic, sunny beach day, but my long legs dangled in the spokes. I was crying and screaming, but my dad was one of the most focused people I’ve met in my life. My bear of a father disregarded my wails and focused on the relaxing sounds of the waves and the seagull’s squeals.

Sometimes, believe it or not, you have no idea that you’re embarrassing or even hurting your child. My dad had no clue that he was causing harm until someone on the boardwalk stopped him. I’m guilty of the same charge. After my son Eddie recently had surgery, he vomited, and water was run through his nose to clear his passages.

“I had a flashback to when I was around 10 years old, and we were playing that surf game in the pool,” Eddie said. “Oh my God, that memory is just awful!”

Yes, it was our spin on body surfing. Eddie, who is now 18, and I would take turns diving about 5 feet down at our swim club, and one of us would stand on the other’s back while they would make their way across the pool. The object was not to put force on the person swimming.

However, apparently, one day I pressed more than I should have on Eddie. “You had no idea, but I was in a panic down there,” Eddie recalled. “When I hit the surface, I hardly had any air in my lungs, but you missed it since when I came up, you fell back into the water. I don’t think you ever realized how scared I was.”

I apologized eight years too late. I had to ask my daughters if I ever scarred them for life. When the kids were little, I would play tackling games, kind of an introduction to football. Each of my first three children loved it, but Jane, 11, never enjoyed the activity.

“I don’t like being tackled,” Jane said. “I remember that used to irritate me, and watching ‘Caillou’ really traumatized me. I have so many bad memories of that show.” I discovered each of my children hated “Caillou,” which I always thought was a harmless PBS program.

My daughter Jillian, 22, experienced a trauma completely unlike her siblings. “Why didn’t you tell me that I was lousy at basketball?” Jillian asked. “You would always be so encouraging. ‘You’re doing just great,’ ‘keep it up’ were some of the things you said when you had to know that I wasn’t very capable.”

Lead-legged Jillian is the only one of my four children who is just not athletic. But I didn’t want to shatter her confidence, so I encouraged her. “But it was so traumatic since I just wasn’t any good,” she said.

My cooking also traumatized Jillian. “What is that?” Jillian asked time and time again upon receiving what she dubbed “a mystery dish.”

Anthony Bourdain I’m not. I wish I had the culinary artistry that my Eddie possesses, but I try the best that I can. I just never thought about how I might have traumatized my children. Sometimes it’s difficult for parents to imagine what life is like as a child and what might be upsetting for them.

When my memory transported me back over a half-century, I was struck by the sensation. I could literally feel my late father, clad in a white undershirt and perfectly pressed khakis, crawling over me smiling like I was this new little toy, which I guess I was at that time. That vision catapulted me to another place in which I dearly miss my father.

I don’t think about him as much as I should since my plate is full with my children, work and so many other distractions. However, when I look back at my dad, sure, he was flawed, he made his mistakes, but we are all guilty of making bad decisions. But I remember the good from my father, how giving, supportive and loving he was at a time when many men failed to express themselves in that manner.

I’m less than perfect. I’ve made some miscues that have led to my children’s trauma, but the crazy thing is that my kids and I laugh about those missteps, and somehow we’re closer than ever.

I still think back to when I would bombard my children with snowballs after leaving school. Once an errant snowball missed Milo and went flying down the hallway. “Mr. Condran, you should have to go to detention for that,” Ms. Lavenduski, my son’s English teacher, said while leaving the building, laughing. “But, hey, it’s all in fun, and nobody was hurt.”

The good news is that none of my kids were hurt by dad-induced trauma. Milo and his siblings lived through the snowball years. Eddie gasped for air and then breathed easily after reaching the surface. Jane has no issues with tackling anymore since she’s now one of two girls on her football team. And despite her lack of athletic pedigree, Jillian has turned into a fine tennis player and doesn’t rely on anyone to cook since she knows her way around the kitchen.

We rose above the drama from the trauma. Now that the kids are older, I try to be cognizant of what I might be doing so I don’t repeat the mistakes I committed in the past.

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