Pursuing Failure

Barnaby: Okay, I have to start my homework now, Daddy, and I’m *pretty sure* I’m not gonna get all of it done.

Me: Why’s that?

Barnaby: There’s way too much homework. I have a reading response and spelling and math and I have to finish my travel brochure for India.

Me: That does sound like a lot.

Barnaby: It does, right?

Me: Yeah.


Barnaby: So, do you think I’m gonna get it all done?

Me: I don’t know, what do you think?

Barnaby: Well, it’s a lot of homework. If I had to choose? If I had to say whether or not I could get it all done? I think I’d say there’s too much homework and I can’t get it all done.

Me: Well, kiddo, you know I don’t care if you do any of it.

Barnaby: You don’t?

Me: No, you don’t have to do any of it, as far as I’m concerned. The truth is, it isn’t really teaching you anything, you’ve already been at school for eight hours today, it really doesn’t matter to me if you do it.


Barnaby: Okay, well… I should probably start my homework, though.

Me: Okay.

(Cut to half an hour later. His spelling is done, his math is done.)

Barnaby: Okay, but Dad? I have two big writing projects to do, and I’m not sure I’ll get them both done.

Me: Well, if you don’t, you’ll have a really good excuse why you didn’t.

Barnaby: Yeah. (Beat) Wait, what do you mean?

Me: I mean, if you fail to get both pieces done, you’ll have a really good excuse, right? You had a lot of homework and it would have been really hard to do all of it.

Barnaby: (laughing) Daddy! You’re supposed to tell me to do all of this!

Me: I am?

Barnaby: Quit joking around!

Me: Barnaby, I promise you, from the bottom of my heart, I don’t actually care if you do any of this. If you tell me you want to watch a video, then we can sit and watch a video.

Barnaby: So you think I *shouldn’t* do this work?

Me: Oh no! Not at all, I think you *should*.

Barnaby: Then why did you say I had a good reason not to do it?

Me: I can’t *make* you do it, you decide what you’re gonna do. I don’t care. And if you go in tomorrow with your homework not done, your teachers probably won’t care either. You’ve got a good reason *not* to do it and if you *do* do it, it won’t really make that much of a difference.

Barnaby: So, why are you telling me that?

Me: Look, most people go into most things trying to figure out the reason they’re about to fail. Believe me, almost everyone I know has a stack of reasons *this high* for why they are gonna fail to do stuff – even the stuff they actually want to do.

Barnaby: Why do they do that?

Me: Well, first of all, it isn’t ‘they’, it’s me too. And I don’t know why we do it. I really don’t. But it isn’t everybody. I know a lot of people who are really successful at stuff, who don’t fail at stuff.

Barnaby: You don’t fail at stuff.

Me: (laughing) I don’t? I mean… honey, I fail at stuff all the time.

Barnaby: Like what?

Me: Dude, I might be failing *right now*. Maybe I’m supposed to get angry at you for obviously wasting time talking to me instead of doing your homework.

Barnaby: DAHAD!! I’m not wasting time, we’re *TALKING*!!!

Me: Right. This is what you do. You ask interesting questions to try to get people to talk so you don’t have to do your work.

Barnaby: (laughing) No! I ask interesting questions because people have interesting stuff to talk about!

Me: (laughing) The fact that you think people are interesting is actually one of the things about you that I’m most proud of.

Barnaby: Why?

Me: QUIT STALLING. Kid, if you want to do this, then do it. If not, then let’s go do something else.

Barnaby: Well, should I choose one of them to do? If I don’t do both of them, should I choose one?

Me: Whatever you want.

Barnaby: I’ll start with the reading response, and when I get that done, then I’ll see.

(Cut to half an hour later. His reading response is done. He’s rubbing his hand because it really hurts.)

Barnaby: Daddy, I think I’m going to do the travel brochure now.

Me: Okay. Do you want me to write some of it for you?

Barnaby: Don’t you think I should write it myself?

Me: Either way. But you know your hands get tired and I’m supposed to scribe for you if your hands hurt.

Barnaby: But other kids do all their homework on their own.

Me: Yeah, but they don’t have the same problems that you do. Their hand muscles are different.

Barnaby: That’s why it’s harder for me?

Me: It isn’t harder for you. It’s easier for you.

Barnaby: DAHAD! It’s *harder* for me! My hands don’t work like other kids!

Me: Look, dude, everything is hard for everyone. The difference between you and other kids is that we know what’s hard for you and we can help you. Most other kids? Their parents have to work really late and they have to do their homework at school. Or they only have one parent. Or they don’t speak English at home and so they’re the only one who understands the assignment. Or they have a whole bunch of brothers and sisters who are all running around yelling.

Barnaby: Or they don’t have pencils.

Me: (laughing) I mean… I suppose that’s possible, but probably not in our neighborhood.

Barnaby: What else?

Me: Well, what if they have an older brother who takes up all their parents’ time with his homework so they have to sit in the other room playing by themselves?

Barnaby: Like Marlena?

Me: Yeah. I mean, she’s got none of the same problems you have, but she’s got her own struggles. The reason stuff is *easier* for you is because we’ve had specialists and counselors from here to Timbuktu telling us all the different ways you’ve developed differently and how we can help. And most other kids have a ton of things that are hard but nobody has ever said, “it’s because of this or that”, so nobody is trying to help them.

Barnaby: That’s really terrible.

Me: Look, it all works out in the end. You’ve been given a hundred advantages. I mean – I might be doing all this wrong, but I am sitting here. Just the fact that I’m sitting here means you’ve got it easier than most kids. You might have been born with some delays and stuff, but every single step you’ve ever taken has been made easier for you.

Barnaby: So, I’m really lucky?

Me: I don’t know. I really don’t. I don’t know if it’s good or bad that you’ve been helped every step you’ve taken. I know so many people who have a lot of money, but who talk about being poor, and I know a lot of people who say they deserve more than they’re getting when they have a ton of stuff. I know a lot of people who think their lives are really hard and awful when their lives are actually totally awesome. Most people decide they want to do something – like they want to have kids or start a company or get in shape or whatever – and then they talk about all the reasons that it’s *impossible* for them to do it right. They have *all these reasons* why it just won’t ever work… and that’s for the things they *chose* to do.

Barnaby: Why do they do that.

Me: Sweetie, it isn’t even ‘they’. It’s *me too*. I do this all the time, and it’s annoying and I don’t want you to do it. I mean… I’m just about the luckiest person that has ever lived ever. Every single day, I’m the luckiest person.

Barnaby: Because of me!

Me: (laughing) Yes. Totally. I got the perfect kids for me, I have, like, basically a perfect life. But I still get these horrible thoughts that I’m a failure, that I can’t do all the things I want to do, that I can’t be a success.

Barnaby: What do you want to do?

Me: DUDE!!! Listen, if you want to talk, I’ll talk. But I’m sick of sitting here. Let’s be done with your homework, I’ll just write your teachers a note and tell them I said you didn’t have to do this brochure.

Barnaby: No! No. (pause) I’ll do it.

Me: Well, if you’re gonna do it, then do it.

Barnaby: Can you write some of it for me?

Me: Of course. You’re gonna have to spell the words, though, if I ask and I’m gonna write them the way you tell me.

Barnaby: Okay.

Me: And if you want to write stuff yourself, just tell me.

Barnaby: Okay. Daddy? I think I’m gonna *start out* writing? And if my hand gets tired, I’ll have you write stuff.

Me: Totally. You do as much of it as you feel like you can do and as soon as you need my help, just ask me. That’s what I’m here for.