Tuesday, March 4, 2014


I don't remember what my son did that made me lash out at him with such spite and volume, but I will never forget the moment that he flinched as though I were about to hit him. I wasn't, but you couldn't have convinced him otherwise, and so he cowered below me with fear in his eyes. The sight shocked me into silence and sent me bolting from the room.

A few minutes later I stood behind a locked bathroom door, my heart racing and my chest heaving. A panic spread within me like a dark wet stain on white linen. I looked through wild eyes at my reflection in the mirror, and for the first time saw what I had become; a man covered in a crust of bitterness, self-righteousness and pride. It was so thick and ugly upon me that my own son feared my approach.

The monster in the mirror frightened me too.

That was some time ago; let's skip ahead to present day. Last week, an authority figure wrongfully and without any investigation other than an ASSumption accused my daughter and a few of her fellow students of having stolen a computer. After yanking them from a prior obligation, he informed them that they would not be going anywhere until the issue was resolved. The kids protested their innocence, but he did not believe them. He did eventually grant them permission to embark on their own investigation, and with little effort they discovered that another adult in authority had in fact taken the computer. Having proved their innocence, they were allowed to return to their prior obligation, but were penalized for having missed the major part of it.

I could be incensed over the fact that this man doubted my daughter's integrity. I could be enraged at his complete lack of respect for her, and his display of incompetence when it came to the thoughtful, intelligent, and level-headed wielding of authority. I could brandish my pitchfork, light my torch, and march down to his office to demand his resignation.

But I'm not (okay, I'm trying not to be), and I won't (really, I won't). The benefit of doubt, the fact that I was not there, and my own experience, both as a teenager and working with teenagers, afford him the presumption of innocence that he did not offer my daughter. Mistakes are sometimes made.

That being said...

No apology was offered up to the kids by their accuser after the fact, and no restitution was made in regards to the prior engagement that they missed. That angers, confuses, and concerns me. My daughter spent the better part of that day learning things that we as a nation deem to be critical to our children's future (topic for another day), but the most important lesson she could have learned that day wasn't part of the curriculum, in spite of the oppurtunity.

As a child I was taught to say that I was sorry whenever I wronged someone. For years I listened to teachers, parents, and adults in general, as they admonished me to apologize for my bad or insensitive actions. Along the way, however, I marveled at how few of them actually practiced what they preached. Their (in)actions demonstrated a "do as I say, not as I do" approach to adult life. I decided that I couldn't wait to reach the age at which I could counsel others on what was good for them, while at the same time ignoring my own advice and doing as I pleased.

Such an age never came, not in any official-stamp sort of way, but at some point, probably in my teenage years, I just stopped apologizing. I grew up, fell in love, got married, made mistakes and refused to apologize. I had kids, loved and nurtured them, made mistakes, and refused to apologize.

Back through time, to the monster in the mirror. Ten years into fatherhood, I remained apology-free and overflowing with self-righteous pride, a tyrant in the eyes of my children. I wanted, I needed to change, but did I know how to become something else, something better, something that my kids wouldn't fear? Even if I figured it out, would it be worth what was sure to be a mighty amount of effort? Wasn't the damage done? Wouldn't my kids look back at this version of their father no matter what I did or said over the next  fifty years? My bile-laden gut told me to stand my ground; I was the patriarch of the family, and my word was infallible law.

Fortunately, my heart told me otherwise, and for good measure it dredged up the image of my son's young frame cowering in my shadow.

I knew what I had to do.

I'll never forget the look on my son's face as I sat on the end of his bed and asked his forgiveness.

"I am sorry," I said, and meant.

He looked up at me, a look of confused relief on his face as he watched me struggle to shed the heavy crust that had constrained me for as long as he could remember. I made no excuses for my behavior, laid none of the blame at his feet, and demanded no concessions of him as I finished my apology.

A but free apology.

To say that it felt good doesn't cut it.

I'd like to think that the moment meant as much to my son as it did to me, but if it didn't, and if he doesn't even remember it, that's okay. He wasn't the one that needed to learn a lesson that day.

In spite of that lesson learned, I have yet to become a perfect father. I still make mistakes, and even let slip the dogs of my temper now and again. But my kids have kind hearts that allow room for my imperfections, so long as I keep trying. And I do.

One more jump through time, to the moment that my daughter and her classmates proved their innocence. In that moment, she could have been taught that even adults make mistakes, some of them really dumb, some of them really stupid, and all of them forgivable. She could have learned that humility makes weak men strong, felt the power of a sincere apology, and known the blessings that come from forgiving others.

But her accuser didn't apologize, and so instead she learned that pride makes strong men weak, and respect eludes some men for good reason.

I'm sorry, Hannah.

1 comment:

  1. So true, not an easy enlightenment to grasp, pride drives the traffic mentality so that everyone around us are fools and we alone are a whole person competent and understandably flawed, reading this helps me to recognize humanity in even the adversarial personality, that makes it easier to forgive.....thanks.