Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Je M'Accuse Week: Post 2: I Am a Bad Father

I talk about Ian a lot here on my blog, but you'll notice I almost never talk about how he does in school. Ian does okay in school, but he has always struggled academically. It takes real effort on his part to achieve fair-to-middling results.

I can kinda identify with this since my own academic career can be summed up thusly: class clown; C's and D's throughout grade school, middle school and high school, until 12th grade, when it dawned on me that if I didn't get into a college I'd have to go to work, the prospect of which was worse than the thought of continuing school; so in 12th grade, for the first time in my life, I did minimal studying and all homework assignments and got almost all A's, which A's were the first A's I got in my life.

And it wasn't really even that hard to do; I just did my assignments and I found I understood them and could do them easily. But I had never felt that that was my assigned role in life; I always thought that was Teh 'Bro's assigned role, because he's a year older than I am and he always got A's and seemingly did it with little effort and he was soooo good academically that he was always in the advanced classes and I remember when he and I were sent to Catholic school for like a week so we could study up for our confirmation1 one of the nuns came up to me after like the first day and asked, "Why is you brother attending public school? Because he's not a discipline problem, like you, and he's not stupid, like you, and, in fact, he's academically gifted. So why don't you go home and tell your parents that just because you're retarded, that doesn't mean your older brother is and, sure, you'd get tossed from here within an academic year, but him? We'd offer your parents a discount on tuition to get our hands on him."

So I always knew Teh 'Bro was naturally smarter than I and that my natural talents lay in being an asshole and a clown and getting failing or pert-near failing grades. So I went with that because it was the path of least resistance.

But the analogy between Ian and myself goes only so far. Because Ian isn't an asshole and he isn't a clown, and he tries but doesn't always get what's being taught despite his best efforts.

And I remember helping him with his homework and sometimes losing my patience and seeing him do something the wrong way after I had just explained the correct way to him; and my saying to him testily, "Why don't you listen? Am I speaking English? I said do it this way and you just did it that way, which is wrong! OPEN YOUR EARS!"

Yeah, not exactly father of the year there under the best of circumstances.

But here are the actual circumstances, which are slightly less than optimal:

Ian, last year, was diagnosed with an auditory processing disorder. Which means he has a hard time understanding spoken instructions, especially if they're relatively complex. It also means that what you and I hear as background noise, he hears as sound that is on an even footing with foreground noise; i.e., the kid whispering to another kid in class behind him is of equal import to him as the teacher up in front of the class giving instructions on how to do long division. It's not a mere distraction; it would be equally valid to say the teacher was the distraction, because Ian doesn't choose which sounds to key on.

And so when he would say to me, as I got angry with him, "I am listening. I just don't get you," he was not being lazy or stubborn or lying. He really just didn't understand.

And you can look at my sentence structure just in this post and see that I'm pretty much the type to give multiple steps at once, in one breath, as it were. Which is exactly what you are not supposed to do with someone who has an auditory processing disorder.

One. Step. At. A. Time.

When I do that, Ian gets me.


But I can't unsay all of those things I said to him back when he pleaded with me to believe him that he wasn't being lazy or recalcitrant, as I was being when I was his age. And I would yell at him and tell him, "Just listen, would you!"

And therefore, Je M'Accuse:

I Am a Bad Father.
1 We "bad" Catholics who went to public schools were given a week during which we were allowed to miss regular school and instead attend our parish schools where we, in that one week, tried to catch up with the Catholic school kids, who'd had all the prayers and rituals and stuff that was associated with Teh Big Step of Accepting Confirmation as a Catholic Soldier for Christ drummed into them for at least a year; and so the whole set-up was rigged to make us lesser Catholics look bad so that smug and sadistic nuns could lord it over us and cluck their tongues and worry about how we'd ever get into heaven if we didn't know the proper responses to the Very Serious Questions that the incense-buzzed priest was going to ask us a mere four days from now!

And of course the only reason Teh 'Bro and I attended public schools was that, years earlier, my eldest brother, Frank — who, as you'll recall, was mentally ill — was so ill-served by the parochial school he attended, where his inability to keep up academically was met with harsh corporal and psychological punishment, because these were — and as far as I know, still are — the only methods that Catholic (and private) schools have to deal with anyone who falls outside the mainstream; and when these methods fail, as they always do with these "least of Jesus' brothers", the schools either throw them out of their Private School Paradises, or so torture them that the parents have no choice but to "voluntarily" take them out ... Frank, as I was saying, was so poorly served by this system, that my parents took him out and sent him to public school. Because, amazingly, corporal punishment — sadistic smacks on the arms and hands with yardsticks — ... these things do not cure schizophrenia and make you a "good" student. Who knew? Certainly not Jesus. or, if He did, Teh Pope never got that memo.

And of course they, these kids like Frank, end up in the Public School System, whose mandate, unlike the private and parochial schools, is to offer an education to everyone, not just cherry pick the best performers and toss out the ones that would take a bit of extra effort to educate. And so the public schools, taking their role to offer education for everyone seriously, developed different tracks and different methods for dealing with these despised "special" students, these least of Jesus' brothers, to whom the Catholic Church-sponsored parochial schools said, "Uh, don't let the door hit you on the @$$ on the way out and thanks for leaving because you were making us look bad and Jesus loves you but us? Meh. Not so much."

And that's why it makes total sense nowadaze to vilify all public school teachers as lazy and incompetent and then use that straw man argument to de-fund public education and offer as a "solution" to the "education crisis" vouchers and the "alternative" of expensive private schools whose only hope for attracting new students is to keep the school's aggregate academic performance as high as possible, which doesn't merely encourage the system to toss the most needy students to the side, but rewards doing so; because that worked so well in the past ... why don't we just try that again because if Jesus loves these least of His brothers so much, surely, surely He'll provide them a miracle.

And if He doesn't? Just goes to prove they deserve whatever they get. Or don't get.

Yeah. That strikes me as a sound educational policy.


  1. I got as far as "We'd offer your parents a discount on tuition to get our hands on him." and had to stop. The lewdness! And this is the NUNS, who are generally considered to have escaped the current child abuse scandals. If it had been the priest, well, we all know what they're up to, and it would be no surprise. I'll be back once I recover from the shock.

  2. OK, I'm back, and I finished it this time. I was worried about you for a sec there, but then you got back into the groove.

    Lets just say that I'm one of the people who thinks one could argue that Christianity in general, and the Catholic Church in particular is the single worst idea that humanity has ever had. That honour is generally accorded to the Nazi's or the Communists, depending on your ideological stripes. But consider. The National Socialist Party was in power about 25 years, with Hitler in office 12 years. The Communists (of a sort) are still in power in North Korea and (kind of) in China, after having been established in Russia in 1917.

    Don't get me wrong, both are horrible ideas, but historically, they've only been around for an eyeblink. The Catholic Church has been around nearly 2000 years, depending on exactly how you want to count it, and they've been horrible the entire time. "Kill them all, God will know his own." At least nine Crusades to the Middle East, depending on how you count them. Nearly 700 years of the Inquisition, off and on. Persecution of scientists. I could go on.

    So GQH, in the grand scheme of things, you're doing just fine. And to be fair, now that you know about the problem, you're doing things differently. And one has to consider fatherhood in context. Nobody is perfect at everything. You take Ian fishing. You help him (in your own unique way) with his homework. It could be much much worse.

  3. 1. You rock.

    2. What you described is exactly how you learn how to teach a kid. That is 90% of the battle. There are so many obstacles to learning some organic some situational. You have created a safe, loving, happy home for Ian thereby eliminating the situational obstacles and you kept working until you found the root of the organic obstacles so that they can also be overcome.

    I would call that really great parenting. (And I know from shitty parenting. I have met a few in my day.)

    A master teacher once told me this about parents and students, "They send you their very best children. It is not like they keep the ones that they did not screw up at home. They trust you to find a way to help them all learn."

    If I could just explain it once and they all get it maybe my job would be as easy as my government likes to tell everyone it is.

  4. Of course, I can't say much about parenting. I do know a little about auditory processing problems. I had something in common with the pianist Glenn Gould; I could overhear a dozen simultaneous conversations and recall them verbatim.

    At the same time, I couldn't read more than two sentences of anything before my mind wandered (which would be labeled ADD now). So, I'd listen to the teacher while being the class clown and distracting everyone else, but remember everything I heard and never crack open a textbook. And never did my homework.

    0's on homework, 100's on tests. Grades depended on the weighing of those two.

    My father didn't know the names of my schools or where they were. So you're ahead of that, anyway.

  5. Can I join your bad parenting group? Man, I lose it helping with homework.

  6. Bad father, my ass. Teh Ian is one incredibly lucky kid. Your love and pride in him are evident each and every time you mention him. Any parent who tells you that they've never yelled at their kids or been unreasonable is a big fat liar pants. I'm an impatient ass and yet my moose calves have turned out none the worse for wear. Don't be so hard on yourself.

    (You might, however, be a shitty neighbor. I haven't yet read that post.)

  7. Maybe I have a disorder, too because there are many times when I have to read your blogs a few times to get it all. You're not a bad father, you're a fountain of knowledge GQH :)

    Any dad that takes his kid to baseball games gets brownie points in my book. Some of my best memories of my dad are going to sports events with him ... not doing homework with him.