I have always joked that being a TV producer/director has trained me to be a good parent: You work long hours, with little food and, at times, not a single thank you.
The lessons I learned on a set are the lessons I try to use with my children. I once worked on a reality show for NBC called Starting Over, with a man-eater of a schedule with 100-hour work weeks.
I was the director, which meant I was never allowed to leave the control room. I spent 12 hours a day locked in a very dark room. After 13 days of working without a break, which included three days with a temperature of 102, I was exhausted, mentally and physically.
To this day, I am not sure what exactly set me off. I call it the “death of a thousand paper cuts” — the first 999 cuts didn’t bother me, but the last one, look out. A production assistant said something snotty (cuz that’s what they do) and before you know it, I was screaming at the top of my lungs at anyone and everyone around me. It was an out-of-body experience. I knew I had to calm down, I knew that what I was doing was wrong, but there was no coming back. I had lost complete control.
The next day, our production manager called me into his office. “Dave, you are the person everyone else looks at to be in control, when you lose it, everybody loses it. The camera people, the crew, the grips and even the cast was affected by your loss of control, you have to be better than they are. You can’t ever let them get to you.” He didn’t fire me.
“Keep control. You can’t let them get to you.” Those words have rung in my ears ever since. Those are words I have lived by no matter the situation: from a gangbanger shoving a gun in my mouth to an angry toddler throwing himself on the floor screaming.
Last month, I lost control.
WIFE had been out of town for four days and for the most part, things had been good.
Until the 5-year-old started to whine because we didn’t get to play with his Legos (all we did was play) while the boys were taking a bath. As I said, it’s the thousandth paper cut that will get you. It set me off in a screaming rage that left my 5-year-old cowering in the corner sobbing and the baby so scared he pooped in the bath tub.
“When you lose control, everybody loses it.” That’s exactly what happened, “everybody lost it.” My son went to bed sobbing, the baby was upset, the dog was so freaked out she peed on the floor and I went to the basement and cried my eyes out.
As I sat in the dark trying to get it together, I heard a little voice from behind me. Though he was supposed to be in bed, my 5-year-old came to find me. Before I could say anything he said, “I am sorry I was bad, daddy, I am sorry I made you so mad. I promise to try harder and be better. I love you.” With that, he broke down into my arms and we both began to hug and cry.
As we held each other, I told him “Buddy, I don’t expect you to be perfect, ever. I just expect you to try and do your best.”
As I tucked him into bed and went off to my room, those were the words that stuck with me “do your best.” Because parenting isn’t a television set or a magazine cover; it’s the ultimate reality, filled with ups and downs, greatness and complete disasters. Parenting is never perfect and though I am completely ashamed of the way I behaved towards my children, I also understand that I am allowed to make a mistake or two along the way.
The only place things are perfect are on TV and in the pages of a magazine. My mother used to tell me “the best lessons in life come from the most painful experiences.” Last month was a doozie for sure, but one that none of us will ever forget.
Is it important to keep control? Of course. Your words and actions have an effect on your children that can last forever. However, when you do stumble and make a mistake or two, don’t beat yourself up or hold yourself to a standard that’s impossible to meet. Know that you are not perfect. There is no instruction manual that comes along with your kids (if only) and remember that the best lessons do, in fact, come from the most painful experiences.
You just have to be willing to learn.