My together time with my daughters makes three people. When we are together, each of us brings our own measure of joy, mellowness, sanity, sorrow, silliness, delight, curiosity, affection, wonder and all the other hurdy-gurdy of emotions.

Even though I try to have my dad radar tuned in to the emotions of two daughters, sometimes it can be a tough read. Tuning in and applying the right combination of daddy empathy or happiness or softness or strength can be tricky. So, I love it when the together time of my relationship with my daughters hits an ecstatic high.

My inner nerd conjures me plotting our relationship in Excel. In my head, I see the three lines of dad and two daughters. Each line marks our own up-and-down range of happy to sad, until they blend into a single overlapped line when we hit that joyful harmonic of being in tune.

Our sweet spot can be the joy of my girls and me giggling in silly unison. Sometimes it comes as a simultaneous buzz of delight at the end of a movie. Other times, the sweet spot arrives in gasping breaths of sweet relief at surviving a “where do babies come from?” conversation. Or, it is the exhausted high of making it back home after an “I can’t go on any longer” bike ride.

My niggling challenge is that sweet needs sour to be fully appreciated. My struggle is the sour feeling that comes with conflict. Yet, ironically, a barney between the kids can create the sour, and the makeup with heartfelt apologies can also be the source of a blissful peace.

Loggerheads

I don’t like argy-bargy. Conflict is my fingernails-on-chalkboard thing, only worse. Typically, I press for the noise and tension of conflict to clear by calling “time” on my own arguments or splitting out the sibling warring factions.

“Dad! DAD! DAAAAD! She won’t give it back and it’s MINE!”

“But, I had it first!”

“But, it’s MINE!”

“I am still playing with it!”

“GIVE IT BACK! You’ll wreck it.”

“You can have it when I’m done!”

“No way — I don’t want you putting your germs on it!”

“GO AWAAAAY. I’ll just hide it!”

Life’s quirky way of delivering me a dad lesson is that I get to adjudicate the same arguments that I likely put onto my own mum and dad. Yet, what if my kids never grow out of the squabble?

Tug-of-War

Right now, I am just not prepared to buy the all-too-common counterpoint that “they are only kids… they’ll grow out of it”, because I have looked on at the unhealthy row between a dad in Lebanon and a mum in Australia over their children. My looking on allowed me to hear them make the same narky argument used by kids… “Give them back… I’m not done with them… they’re mine!”

The saga has almost descended into a gross spectator sport. I feel sad for the three children. The upset of separation could have been softened for the children if mum and dad had been able to skip past the emotion. They might have explored solutions that respected the children’s attachment to mum and dad.

The cross-country stoush between dad in Lebanon and mum in Australia reminds me to put some extra effort into helping my kids grow up to be able to have healthy adult conversations even during a disagreement.

I want my children to love their own life partner so deeply and truly that they can be equipped to bounce back to feeling profoundly smitten with their partner on the other side of a disagreement.

I want that my children carry a passion into all their relationships that can be expressed in healthy arguments. I regularly remind my children that they can make the case for their own values with stern conviction without name-calling or the damaging argument of “YOU did this” and “YOU did that.”

The most demanding lesson for me in the fighting parents is to play nice in my own disagreements with my ex. Sometimes it is a great stretch to set aside the emotional noise to play nice through the turmoil of separation. I still hold onto my idealistic Coach Dad goal that my earthly angels play nice even when things are not nice.

I reason that if they don’t play nice through the gritty complexity of the playground and the messiness of teen emotions, then they will take their lack of practice at healthy conflict into adulthood. Maybe my “play nice” ambition is extraordinarily demanding, but our children deserve parental role models who can tussle cleanly.

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Photo by olia danilevich.

About the Author: Greg McInerney

Greg is the father of two daughters.

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