- This column was from June 2010. This week, eleven years later, I am dropping my twins off at college. Its strange for me to be moved so much by something I wrote.
It was Father’s Day 1978. My sisters and I went to church with my dad and his new wife. The service was different – more enthusiastic than what we were used to. About halfway through the sermon, the preacher told all the dads to turn to their children and say “I love you.”
That was the first and only time my father told me he loved me.
Being a dad isn’t easy. I have three boys, ages 7, 7 and 6. They are my 6-handed chaos engine. They are life’s greatest blessing that still doesn’t pick up their stuff. They are loud, funny, gross and the most wonderful thing in my world.
I strive, more than anything, to bring young men into the world who will be polite, content and enthusiastic. I want them to have the confidence to try great things, but also know that mom and dad love them completely. I want them to explore, take risks and stand up for each other and for their friends. I want them to catch a baseball without flinching, become boy scouts and learn how to talk to girls without being rude. Lofty goals, I know.
Last Christmas, my 6-year old was playing hide-and-seek with his brothers and cousins. That upstairs closet with the shelves looks just like a ladder, doesn’t it? Half-awake downstairs watching football I hear a thump and an unfamiliar scream. A badly broken arm. I learned several things from this experience: 1) my health insurance is a joke and 2) it helps to know one of the ER doctors.
But I learned another lesson. As I held him, wrapped up in his “boppy” in the ER waiting room he spoke words I will never forget: “Deeda! You weren’t there to catch-ed me when I fall-ed down.” No, son, I wasn’t there. I didn’t catch you when you “fall-ed” down. He used to look at me with a shiny-eyed adoration, and he still does sometimes. I used to be all-knowing, almighty and omnipresent. But I wasn’t there.
It is a lesson every child has to learn. Deeda, mama, dad, mom – we’re not perfect. We make mistakes. We fail. We try and try and try, but one day we won’t be there to catch them, the marriage will fall apart or we’ll make some other mistake. It can be a painful moment.
I was 19 years old when I learned to love my dad. He didn’t change – I did. My encounter with God in the gravel driveway of an Oklahoma cemetery changed everything. I met my heavenly Father. He loved me like no human person ever could. I learned that I wasn’t perfect either, but still flamboyantly loved by God.
Today my father has advanced dementia. But every time I see him I tell him “I love you, dad” and he smiles shyly. Maybe, someday, my boys can look through my faults and realize that I tried my best to love them. And maybe they can savor the love of their heavenly father too. That would be the best Father’s day ever.