Grade F written on an exam paper

It wasn’t the first time I’ve had a kid get bad grades on a progress report. The last couple of years have been a doozy. I’ve been exposed to more bad grades than one non-custodial parent should have to. Most of the time I deal with the bad grades like a saint. Patient, positive and full of parental wisdom (at least it sounds that way to me). But, it’s sort of an act, because in real life I am neither patient, positive nor wise by any stretch of the imagination. I might fancy myself to be that in my mind’s eye when things are groovy but usually those thoughts disappear at the first sign of things going south.

God strengthen me to bear myself;
The heaviest weight of all to bear,
Inalienable weight of care.

All others are outside myself;
And I lock my door and bar them out,
The turmoil, tedium, gad-about.

Sometimes being patient doesn’t even feel like being a parent. It doesn’t feel like I care enough when I am trying to be a cool cucumber. Going into a rage, barking, and bellowing crazy incoherent phrases now that feels like caring to me. It definitely provides immediate satisfaction, but in its aftermath follows a degree of misery and a lot of apologizing. When you think, like I tend to do, that strong emotions are more important than the truth itself misery is sure to follow. Anger, hurt feelings or being easily offended never solved no problem but just adds to the world’s misery index and creates more disharmony.

Despite knowing this bit of wisdom, it’s hard for me to not to want them to feel my disapproval and want him to feel bad and miserable for getting bad grades and being q a lazy fart. But I shouldn’t be too hard on the boy, laziness is a very natural state for a teenage boy. And learning how to put that behind us is part of growing up, part of finding out who we are and tapping into our spirituality. I just hope sooner than later he realizes it is better to work hard and put forth effort than it is to be lazy:

“Work has always been a boon to man. May you have a wholesome respect for labor whether with head, heart, or hand. May you ever enjoy the satisfaction of honest toil. … You will never wish or dream yourself into heaven. You must pay the price in toil, in sacrifice, and righteous living.”—Ezra Taft Benson

Construction Workers in Conceptual Food Imagery With Strawberrie

A couple of blissful days passed between the phone call and my son’s monthly visit. That Friday after work I drove up to the Truckee to wait in the McDonald’s parking lot with all of the other non-custodial parents anxiously waiting to exchange their kids. All was good when I picked him up. We mostly talked sports on the drive home both wholeheartedly trying to avoid the nasty and obnoxious subject of his bad grades.

A night and a day had nearly passed, when while we were watching football my wife handed me the mail and there in the pile of mail was the infamous progress report. I opened the report fully expecting, as I had been informed earlier, maybe one or two bad grades, but I nearly choked on my pork schnitzel when I saw there were other bad grades…so many bad grades. So many bad grades that they still haunt me. The progress report was anything but. I was hard-pressed to find where any progress had been made. Egad! He had a bad grade in nearly all of his classes except for weight training. You have work pretty hard to be that lazy.

I did manage to dial down the flash anger to a mild irritability and blew a lot of hot air for the next half hour lecturing and badgering my son, ignoring the rest of that fine football game we had been watching. Of course, I never got a good answer from him about why he had some many bad grades. This seemed to be just as much a mystery to him as it was to me. Finally, my anger and irritability subsided and we sat in silence for the remaining part of the evening, hoping this would pass.

Honeybee in Flight

The image of those grades must have sank deep into my psyche and marinated overnight because I woke up in a foul mood the next day. I yelled at the birds chirping outside our window and threw up a fist and cursed the sun. I hit the Pepsi early and hard that morning. It had become personal, his bad grades were now a pox on my house. In one sense it shouldn’t become personal because those grades were produced by his work ethic and his home environment, and I had very little to do with it. He is the one who has to live with consequences of actions. But, I did take it personally, reliving other bad grade moments. It is hard to not to be affected. For one, there is the natural guilt a parent has when their kids mess up because we know all the times when we gave less than we should have or the times when we weren’t the best example.

“One good man teaches many, men believe what they behold:
One deed of kindness notices is worth fort they are told.”

And in my case, the list of faults as a parent is a long one. Plus, I can’t helpfeel like a kid’s bad grades are a somehow a reflection of your parenting and a condemnation of you as a person.

Another reason I think I took it personal was because I was once that same dumb kid with the bad grades. And, I never had a good answer for the bad grades, other than having to eventually admit to myself that I was a stubborn, lazy nincompoop, suffering from a least ten different kinds of insecurities. I perfectly understand the world of hurt and misery that lazy kid was headed for, if he didn’t change his ways soon. Only if they could learn from my past mistakes instead of repeat them. Why can’t they ever just for once do as we say and not as we do?

How does the soul grow? Not all in a minute…
So it goes forward, now slower, now faster;
Fed by discouragements, taught by disaster…

I don’t know if I can make peace with bad grades. I think I could if my child has some learning disorder but last time I checked idleness was not a disease or a disorder. The good news, at least for now, the word is he has been putting in the time to study and his grades are improving, which save me from having to reconcile to those bad grades, even though that progress still haunts me and hope to never see that degree of academic anarchy every again.