“I say this with love,” my 14-year-old daughter said with tinge of amusement in her smile. “I think you’re being a hypocrite.” Since the topic was how I was acting toward my wife, I asked her to please elaborate.
This was on Saturday morning at our local diner, where the whole family—including my wife, me, and our two children—was having brunch, one of our favorite family meals. My 10-year-old son and I had arrived first with the understanding that my wife and daughter may or may not join us (depending on how lazy they were feeling). But then, in the middle of the meal, they did join us and, in addition to breakfast, I was very eager to share the information I had gleaned from a lecture I had attended earlier in the week about college admissions. The speaker had been a former Times colleague of mine, Jacque Steinberg, author of The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College.
In a way that we hope is reasonably relaxed and helpful, my wife and I occasionally like to sprinkle some thoughts about college within earshot of our children, hoping it’ll be a source for inspiration, dreams, and ambitions. But this time, when I brought up the topic, Rebecca insisted that we save it for another time, so Adam, who is 10, wouldn’t feel precluded from the family chat. I didn’t think it would preclude him—plus, I suggested that he’d be very comfortable re-focusing on the TV screen across the way (which was airing college football highlights). Rebecca felt I was being a bit quick to shut down a reasonable request of hers; I complained about her micro-managing a pleasant brunch conversation—and it awkwardly devolved from there.
One of the ongoing pillars of our marriage, however, is that we always repair—sometimes immediately, sometimes soon enough, but always. This time, after my wife went to the bathroom, and my daughter, in as kindly a way as possible, called me a hypocrite, it happened by the end of breakfast.
“So why am I hypocrite?” I asked in response.
“Because you want to be listened to when you’re right, but you don’t want to listen to others when they’re right,” she answered.
Ugh, I guess it was that black and white.
I wanted to respond: “But I was pushing the college agenda for you.” I also wanted to respond: “You’re just getting back at me for lecturing you about your homework habits.” But I took a deep breath and behaved.
Later, with a few minutes to ourselves, I spoke with my wife and owned up to being the ass-hole who really wanted to talk about what he wanted to talk about, despite her reasonable feelings about wanting to keep Adam engaged in our conversation. She vented a bit more, but I held to my apology, genuinely, and she appreciated that.
I’m not sure why I chose not to try to play this out in front of the kids. It had obvious lesson value; then again, I just felt like they’d had enough of our dramatics. I also think they understood what happened just by the change in mood and manner.
I haven’t gotten to share my college admissions notes yet, but when I do, I’ll be sure to share them with all of you too. Jacque made it sound kind of hopeful.
Eric Messinger is the editor of New York Family. He can be reached at email@example.com.