Apology Earned or Apology Forced?
A fellow parent once mentioned that “The Look” can be taught early on with children. It’s the quick, cold, and fierce glance that can stop them in their tracks. People often say, “My mother (or father) could just give me the look and I knew I was in trouble.”
Whatever our expressions—anger, fury, disgust, embarrassment—they work. Our kids can decipher them. I’m getting good at mine. My eldest definitely gets it. Problem is, I’m not entirely proud I wield this power over him. Soon after I shoot the look, I get, “Sorry, Dad.” Sure, it’s an acknowledgement—a quick repair to his wrong-doing, but it’s also setting a precedent that he owes me an apology. Sadly, my youngest is following suit, and they’re beginning to issue apologies for minor offenses.
My wife dislikes when I apologize for things. Ironically, I tell her I’m sorry for saying sorry. It’s taken me some time to understand her perspective, but she’s right. This is counter to the way I grew up, which was centered around my father’s perpetual victimhood. He was always in need of our begging for forgiveness.
This is forced apology, and I see it in him and in many of the elders in my family. Countless times I’ve heard the phrase, “You owe me an apology….,” and yet the sanctimonious accuser will not lose face and issue their own.
I’m all for apologizing. It’s right and healthy, and I certainly want my sons to know when and why they should apologize for wrong-doings. I don’t want them to think they have to kowtow to their father. That’s the root cause of toxic masculinity: coerced patriarchy. I’ll start by dropping “the look.” I’ll go back to what I know works best—making them smile.