A Father's Journal / Put the silence back in sulking
Updated 6:13 am, Friday, September 21, 2012
We were at a birthday party on Southport Beach catching the last rays of summer when a friend of ours noticed my daughters walking together on the beach. "Your girls seem to get along great," the friend said. "They seem to be best friends."
Later, I told my wife what our friend had said. Laura agreed that the girls are best friends 90 percent of the time. We stopped and looked at each other. We both knew what happened the other 10 percent. Unfortunately, that 10 percent gets most of our attention.
The 10 percent is what sometimes drives the family. My only wish is that the 10 percent was quieter. I don't mind discord. But why can't we have quiet, logical, well thought-out discord? Teenage girls are supposed to sulk. I don't mind sulking. It's quiet. It's like living in a house full of mimes. Mimes aren't bad. At our house, the sulking is accompanied by outbursts. I would accept seething.
A few years ago my youngest played T-ball. She was No. 7, Mickey Mantle's number. Sometimes when things went wrong on the diamond, she would resort to hysterics. As one of the coaches, I would try out my inspirational talks on her. This one didn't go as well as I had hoped. "Stop crying. You're No. 7. Mickey didn't cry ... actually, he kept it inside and drank himself through two livers."
My wife and I got together because she was quietly sulking and seething at me -- see, it works! You can find a mate by quietly seething. Quiet is the new sexy.
Yet 23 years later, we have produced two girls that can't sulk silently.
Twenty-three years ago in California, I was setting up a camera for a focus group. My future wife was the client. I was busy setting up when she asked me, "Am I in your way?" I did not hear her.
She asked again quietly, "Am I in your way?" Still not hearing her and barely aware that she was on the planet, I ignored her. "Fine," she thought as she started to sulk. "I'll just sit in the middle and see how he likes it."
Eventually I finished setting up and noticed this quiet woman sitting in front of where the camera was. "Excuse me," I said politely. "You are in the way of the camera."
She told me later she was seething. She wanted to hit me. But I was blissfully unaware of her rage simmering just below the surface. I was happy in my ignorance. As the years have passed, my wife has gotten more vocal in expressing her emotions. I miss the good old days.
When I was growing up, our family was super Catholic. When we would cry to my mom or complain about one of the eight siblings fighting with us, my mom's response was often, "You know, martyrs suffer in silence."
We had learned about martyrs in CCD. Some of our favorite stories were the gruesome deaths some of the martyrs endured. How could they suffer all that pain without even a little moan? I quizzed my mom.
"Really? Even when they were tortured, not even one of them said `Ow!' or `That hurt'?"
"Not even one `Ow!' and certainly no crying."
"Really, is that in the Bible?"
"Yes it's in there somewhere -- why don't you go look for it? Why don't you take it off the bookshelf over there and quietly look for that part."
My dad was not one who tolerated a lot of whining, crying or complaining. While my mother would occasionally humor us for 10 or 15 seconds, my dad had a zero-tolerance policy. He never mentioned saints or martyrs, either.
He never used logic, coercion, or clever tactics. He only had one line when it came to whining. But one line is all he needed.
"You want to cry? I'll give you something to cry about." He backed up that line enough times that we knew it wasn't an idle threat. The line was very effective.
So far I don't have a trump line for my daughters. I guess I should be happy with the 90 percent. Or maybe I'll just go into another room and sulk during the other 10.
Quiet is the new sexy.
Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His "A Father's Journal" appears every other Wednesday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.