My well-behaved, three-year-old punched me in the chest the other day. We were sitting in our recliner together when I gave him that look a father gives his son that tells the boy he should punch the old man as hard as he can. I’m not sure what that look looks like. I’m not in any position to see it, and then I have no idea when I’m giving it, until I get punched.
For the record, I must point out that the boy never hits his mother. Apparently, she doesn’t know how to give the “hit me” look. He’s pretty good around other kids too. He seems to save up all of his best testosterone surges for me.
I figure I must have given the boy some non-verbal cue that I wanted a good, hard punch. What other reason would he have to haul off and slug me in the midst of what should have been a tender moment of father-son togetherness? To punch me without any provocation would be almost irrational, and this would be completely out of character for a three-year-old boy.
Not realizing that I had commanded him to punch me with my hypnotic eyes, I demanded to know why he would do such a thing. My tone was not at all repentant, as the tone of the one responsible for all the trouble should be. In response to my unfair question, the boy donned his victim costume, puffed out his pouty lips, and declared, “You hurt my feelings.”
I end up hurting my son’s feelings whenever that urge to lash out strikes him. This is mostly because I am petulant and unreasonable. Little boys have a need to punch, kick, throw elbows, and head butt every once in a while. There are secret cues throughout the universe that control this need and compel little boys to act upon it without warning. The little boys have no say in the matter. A more reasonable dad would probably take this into consideration.
Some of these cues come from the strange, electromagnetic fields surrounding other little boys in close proximity, but most of them come from the universe seeing an opportunity to get a clear shot at one of Daddy’s soft spots. In the ultimate addition of insult to injury, the universe makes Daddy the transmitter of its cue to strike.
It can be a fleeting moment of eye contact that tells the boy, “Kick me in the kidney.” Sometimes it is just the hint of a squint that communicates my desire to have his forehead slammed into my nose. And nothing says, “Ram your boney little elbow into my gut,” like Daddy letting his eyes fall closed in sweet repose.
By now, I should understand that my boy is not responsible for the cosmic forces that I am channeling at him. It is very unreasonable of me to scold him for things beyond his control. This causes his feelings to be hurt, which in turn causes him to stand, head bowed, with his back to me while he waits patiently for me to grow into a reasonable human with which one might expect fair dealing.
He is an extraordinarily forgiving soul though. It may take a while, but he always comes around to giving me another opportunity to show my growth as a human being with his fist, foot, or elbow. I only hope that I can evolve into such an even-keeled creature as he is some day.