There is a Chinese Proverb that goes something like this:
A farmer and his son had a beloved stallion who helped the family earn a living. One day, the horse ran away and their neighbors exclaimed, “Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “How should I know? We’ll see.”
A few days later, the horse returned home, leading a few wild mares back to the farm as well. The neighbors shouted out, “Your horse has returned, and brought several horses home with him. What great luck!” The farmer replied, “How should I know? We’ll see.”
Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to break one of the mares and she threw him to the ground, breaking his leg. The villagers cried, “Your son broke his leg, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “How should I know? We’ll see.”
A few weeks later, soldiers from the national army marched through town, recruiting all the able-bodied boys for the army. They did not take the farmer’s son, still recovering from his injury. Friends shouted, “Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!” To which the farmer replied, “How should I know? We’ll see.”
Now, bridge the gap and apply it to fatherhood, taking this stoic parable as how do I know what is “good” or “bad?”
My recent application of this in response to my son’s behavior at dinner gave me a glimpse into the potential power of such reaction. Tonight, he was touchy about the inevitable blending of food on his plate. Tears shed when pieces of ground beef were not sticking to his fork the way he wanted.
Every step of the meal he was irritated about something. This is traditionally “bad” behavior in my mind. Where I would normally feed into this and try to forcefully encourage stopping and good behavior, I focused on enjoying my meal.
“It won’t stay on my fork, and I don’t like the potatoes,” he whined out through the tears. And I’d respond calmly, “You just have to keep trying. Is there another way you could get them to stay on your fork without stabbing?”
Calm. Collective. “Don’t show how annoying and ridiculous his actions are,” I thought to myself.
I don’t know exactly why he does this, but I do know that at four years of age and change, he knows the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. I also could see the difference in his response when I showed a stoic concern vs. frustrated response.
There is a number of different reasons that could explain, but I don’t really need to know. He may not even know. But I hope he knows that I’m there for him, doing my best, whether that is good or bad.