“Oh, sweetie! You should have seen the darling little eight year old girl who wanted to dance with me at the meeting. She had long curly blond hair, and a big beautiful smile. I know her parents. She came up to me, jumped in my lap and asked me to dance with her. She was a really good dancer, too.” Mark could hardly contain himself when telling Jenny of the story of the little girl who fell in love with him.
He quickly switched gears and said, “Jenny, honey, we’re getting ready to go. Shouldn’t you find socks that match? Let’s go look in your dresser drawer to see if we can find two socks that match.”
“Daddy, you told me to hurry, so I just grabbed the first two socks I saw. I’m wearing boots, Daddy. No one will see that my socks don’t match.”
“Isn’t that funny that you wear mismatched socks. Did you brush your hair today?”
“Yes, Daddy, I just brushed it.”
“Mom, I asked dad if it was okay to ski beyond the roped-off area. He said it was okay, but when I went back up to the top, the Ski Patrol was waiting to talk to me. When the Ski Patrol came up to me, dad skied off to talk to a friend. How come he ditched me when the Ski Patrol came over?”
“On the way home from skiing I asked dad if he had any good stories to tell me. He told me some really scary ghost stories, and now I’m afraid to go to sleep. Why would he tell me that scary stuff?”
Jenny wants to know why her dad will go on and on about some other eight year old girl with curly blond hair who likes to dance with him, but then criticizes her for the socks she wears, and wonders if she ever brushes her hair.
Will wants to know why his dad didn’t look out for him on the ski hill, and why he insists on scaring the crap out of him with stories that many grown ups wouldn’t appreciate.
I tell them that their dad lacks empathy.
Mark doesn’t know how to put himself in another person’s shoes and anticipate what they might be feeling. He doesn’t try to know what it’s like to be a little girl who wants her dad’s world to revolve around her. He doesn’t know that when he talks glowingly of another little girl, his own little girl is thinking, “What about me dad? Do you like my straight hair? I’m a good dancer, Dad. Why don’t you dance with me?”
I tell Will that his dad doesn’t acknowledge that it’s scary to get in trouble with the Ski Patrol. He doesn’t realize that he threw Will to the wolves when he encouraged him to ski out of bounds. He doesn’t see the problem, so he’s not going to be there for Will to help sort it out.
“Mom, what’s empathy?”
“Empathy is what you feel, Jenny, when you don’t want to tell dad that you are afraid to go skiing with him, because you don’t want to hurt his feelings.”
“Empathy is what you feel, Will, when you don’t share the scary ghost stories with Jenny because you worry about her, and don’t want her to be up all night.”