Being Daddy Warbucks

That character in Annie. I’ve always loved the name. One day in the future, I’d like to be a dad. One of my biggest fears is that I won’t be a good parent. One of my other biggest fears is that I’ll be a great dad, but regardless of how good I am, the child will be awfully behaved all of the time. Or even worse if I’m a terrible parent with a perfectly well-behaved child. I’m probably massively overthinking it (pretty standard for me) since I imagine the whole thing is a bit of a compromise between being the best that YOU can be and handling the worst that THEY can be.

I started thinking about this the other day when I was travelling on a bus. I’ve seen a lot of families riding on a lot of different kinds of public transportation, but this was a little different. It was the first time that I felt genuinely uncomfortable and had the compulsion to get involved in someone else’s affairs. A young mother boarded (probably early twenties, but that doesn’t matter) with her little boy who was probably no older than three or four. The kid was chatting about something that I couldn’t quite make out, but that the mother clearly had no interest in hearing. The more the kid spoke, the more agitated his mother appeared. After a few minutes, the mother exploded and started ranting at the kid about being quiet.

I want to be clear about this part. She wasn’t just telling the kid off for talking. She was having a full-on rant. The kind of abusive tirade that people save for other grown people in the heat of an argument or an all-out fight when the other person can defend themselves. This went on for a few minutes. The kid was quiet throughout but she just kept going. Telling him how annoying he was. How she just wished that he would shut up. How she hated being out and about with him. When she was finished, he spoke again. She shouted him down. This happened a couple of times before the kid learned that there was no point in speaking further. He turned his head and stared out of the window for the remainder of the journey.

Now I’ve seen adults go misty eyed with lesser abuse. Not that kid. He just took everything that she had to give. Quietly. To me, this is a sign that this has happened before. The kid was just numbed to it and this made me feel cold and horrible inside.

No one on the bus said anything. What would they say? What would I have said? I had no idea what that mother was going through. I had no idea what might have happened minutes before boarding the bus or that morning over a bowl of corn flakes or twenty years ago when she was a kid. But the thought that remained with me throughout was how the kid took it. So well. So experienced.

Regardless of circumstance, I never want to be that parent. Screaming at a child on a bus is not how I want anyone to remember me. I can’t even imagine putting a child through that at all, let alone doing it often enough that the child develops such a thick skin.

My belief (completely lacking in any experience, of course) is that being a good parent has a lot to do with being a good person. Be good to the kid and hope that they’ll reward you with good behaviour, affection and awards from the school science fair. Maybe being a dad will be easier than I fear, or harder than I think. Won’t know until I’m there, I guess. One thing I do know is that I want to be the best parent I can be and that definitely means no shouting on a bus.

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