"I Thought My Life Was Ruined" — Weezer Bassist on Fatherhood, Crisis, and TransformationJuliane Hiam
Every parent has moments of doubt — seriously dark moments even — where they question becoming a parent in the first place, wonder if they are succeeding or failing, and feel desperate to find order in the chaos. Hopefully these thoughts are fleeting and infrequent.
But for Scott Shriner, bass player for Weezer, and his wife (Jillian Lauren, the blogger, author and performer) these were more than fleeting thoughts a while back.
“A couple of years ago,” says Shriner, “I was really afraid that if Tariku didn’t listen to everything I said, that he’d wind up becoming a criminal.”
This may sound a bit extreme given that he’s referring to a cute and spunky kid who at the time was around 4. But Tariku, whom Shriner and Lauren adopted from Ethiopia, had some pretty severe social and behavioral issues, and as a family they found themselves in the middle of a pretty dark period. Tariku got thrown out of 3 preschools in a row, mostly for biting other kids. The fourth preschool put him on leave for an entire month and banned him from participating in his own Christmas pageant.
Around that time, I interviewed Shriner for a previous article. I didn’t realize the turmoil he was in fact in the midst of. He did that interview by phone, in his car, on the way to therapy and a haircut. At the time it seemed very LA and quite amusing. However, the truth was he was in the midst of a personal crisis.
“I thought that my life was ruined, actually,” says Shriner. “I got really depressed. I felt like we couldn’t go anywhere as a family. I was thinking, every time we go to a playground someone gets bit or hurt. I had to physically hold him at times [if Tariku was acting aggressively with other kids.] My wife and I were both just head in hands, thinking that our lives were ruined.”
Going through the trying and difficult problems Tariku was having, however, ultimately led Shriner to grow, change, have a personal transformation. And he has some advice for the rest of us.
“We got a lot of help and we obviously didn’t give up,” he says.
The help included hiring a “shadow companion” for Tariku, getting him in therapy and OT, and finding a school that was willing to make a commitment to stand behind him. In addition, Shriner himself went into therapy.
“I was taking every difficult situation with Tariku like a challenge to my ego somehow,” continues Shriner. “He wasn’t listening to me and I was taking it personally. I felt he wasn’t respecting me. But I’ve gotten a grip on that and understand now that it’s not about a challenge to me as far as who’s in charge but Tariku’s need to express some control in his life. It really has nothing to do with me. So it helps a lot for me to remember that on a day to day basis. That’s kind of the practice — to take a moment out and say out loud Wow, this is really getting me angry,’ so it’s almost like I’m talking to myself in front of Tariku with him watching. It’s a hard thing to do in the moment but it helps.
“Things have changed dramatically since then. The time when he was going from age 3 to age 4 was so unbelievably hard. He and I have both grown a lot since then. Now he’s like 5.7 years old. He’s gotten a lot more comfortable in the world, and he feels safer, and he feels a lot more in control of his body and everything that was causing him dis-ease.”
Shriner explains that Tariku still tends to get overwhelmed in situations with lots of stimulation. Even the grocery store can put him into overload. But Shriner has tools to help avoid that now. For one thing, he sticks with a regimented routine. They go to the same grocery store every time and tend to buy the same food.
“All the people, all the stuff everywhere — can get him out of balance,” says Shriner. “So while other kids are sitting in the carts on their iPads, that doesn’t work for us. My kid’s on the ground with a list of things he has to find. I tell him, Alright, you need to find celery, two beautiful apples, and an avocado.’ I always give him a job. Things like that have really helped.”
Shriner is looking to put Tariku on task with chores around the house next, to keep him engaged there.
“When I was a kid, on days with the family, we’d spend most of the time getting stuff done – -in the yard or going to the store or stuff like that.”
Even though he admits his life now is very different from his own childhood — starting with the fact that he’s a well known rock star and his wife a bestselling author, and they live in LA and hire out a lot of the chores around the house — he was still inspired by a friend whose father came to town recently and over the course of a two week visit trained that friend’s kids to make their bed every day. “He’s an ex-military guy and trained the kids to make their own beds. And he would not take no for an answer. I decided that would be a good place for us to start too — with Tariku making his bed.”
As he looks back on the past couple years, and sees how far they’ve come with Tariku and how they’ve grown as a family and as individuals, he says he appreciates more than ever how strong his relationship with his wife Jillian is and always has been.
“Me and Jillian made a commitment to each other. In the eight years we’ve been together the D word has never come up once, and I plan on it staying that way. When we made that commitment, the option of leaving was taken off the table. That thought is just not even in my head. It’s always been about working through anything — nobody’s going anywhere. There’s no where to go. In that way getting married was really helpful to me. And I can count on Jillian. I scored with her. She’s a hard worker, and she figures things out — she’s kind of an unbelievable force, that one. And I guess I’ve come to realize I am too. We make a really good team.”