It’s Father’s Day, so I felt like writing.
Imagine that you had the best father in the world. From as long as you can remember, your father watched over you, protected you, loved you every minute of every day, and taught you all the ways to be a kind, generous, and loving person. Your father also gave you ground rules. Now, he gave you these rules not because he wanted to take the fun out of your life, but to keep you safe and spare you pain. He warned you not to go out of the yard (and watched you close, just in case), he showed you that even when your brother or sister made you angry, it was better to respond with forgiveness than revenge (even though you beat them up anyway).
Your father gave you every bit of knowledge that you needed to live a good life, not necessarily an easy one, but one with commitment, honor, integrity, and love. Now, you’re a kid, so you know that kids don’t always listen to their dads. You think dads are old and boring and they never let you do what you want to do. Sometimes, you listen to your dad and sometimes you do your own thing, even when you know you shouldn’t. Sometimes you get lucky (like when you don’t break your neck riding your bicycle straight down a staircase) and sometimes you don’t (like when you throw rocks at cars, one breaks a windshield, and you get caught in the act).
Does Dad stop loving you? No. He gets upset that you’ve made a bad choice and is sad that your bad choice have hurt someone, but you know deep in your heart that he still loves you. His love is like a safety net and, no matter what, your dad is the best dad in the world. Some of his rules stink (like not staying out past dark or not letting you eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner five days in a row) and some make sense, like forks in the light socket thing. You know this, because you tried it, and when you got shocked, it scared you and it hurt really really bad. You wish you’d listened to your dad, but some mistakes you need to make on your own. Hearing it from your parent just isn’t the same.
And then you got older.
Now you think you know better than Dad. Dad’s really starting to annoy you because his rules go directly against what you want to do. He says be nice to your little brother, and you hate your brother and want to hit him whenever you see him because he’s such a pain and Dad doesn’t see half of the things your punk brother does, so it just makes sense you’d make him pay to keep things even. (Even though Dad doesn’t catch half the things you do either.) You think that your dad’s ways are old-fashioned and stupid and no one thinks like that anymore. Why should you do what Dad says when no one else around you does? Dad’s way sucks.
You listen to your dad less and your friends more because what they’re saying makes sense and, if you’re honest with yourself, their way feels better because it’s fun. You try to hide things from Dad because you don’t want to deal with the fallout (and the grounding), so you tell him what you think he wants to hear and you do whatever you want anyway. Every once in a while, Dad nails you – right between the eyes – and you’re grounded with extra chores, and no TV. You rail against Dad and his stupid rules and you tell him to get out of your life and leave you alone.
Now you think you know everything there is to know. You’ve been around, you’ve lived a little. Oh, you are a smart one now. Dad’s rules and authority are a distant memory, you’ve even told him so right to his face, and to anyone else who’d listen. You don’t respect him because he doesn’t “get it” and, frankly, he’s a buzz kill. In fact, the more he tries to tell you what to do, the more you want to do the opposite, just to make him mad (let’s be honest, because it’s probably fun). Now you are fighting with Dad all the time. Dad tells you to be home at eleven, you stay out until two. Dad tells you that it’s dishonest to cheat on a test, you cheat because you don’t want to do the work, you just want the A. Dad tells you that it’s mean to disrespect your friends by talking behind their back, but swapping the dirt is fun. Totally harmless.
You’ve moved out and moved on.
You’ve gotten to a point where Dad’s opinion is the least important opinion in your life. Things have gotten so bad that when you do see your dad, you tell him how useless he is, and how you want nothing to do with him. In fact, just thinking about him and his rules makes you angry for no reason at all. Not only do you not respect him at all, but you don’t even really like him that much. You don’t call on Father’s Day and you rarely follow anything he’s taught you over the years anymore. About the only time you do call is when you need money or help moving again, because your landlord was a jerk and evicted you just because you were a little late on rent (a few times). Dad shows up, helps you out without asking questions, and you’re off again. There’s no real conversation because you know he’s disappointed in you and you don’t want to deal with the shame so you take off and resume avoiding him.
And then your choices catch up with you.
One night, you’re out drinking with your buddies, having a good time when things go from “great time” to “in a bad way” really quick. A big crowd is outside the bar and you are joking around as you wander back to your cars when a fight breaks out. Maybe your mouth got away from you (again) and you said and did a few things that you shouldn’t have. Someone pulls a gun on you and before you have time to raise your hand and say, “What? I didn’t do anything,” it goes off.
From out of nowhere, there’s Dad. The dad you never listened to, the dad you never respected, the dad you hated for all his rules, the dad you told to stay out of your life. Dad leaps in front of the gun, takes the bullet, and drops to the ground bleeding. That bullet meant for you because of what you did. Those great friends of yours scatter because no one wants to be around for this. They know this will only end badly and they don’t want to be around when the cops show up.
You drop to your knees and hold Dad in your lap sobbing, blood trickles from his mouth and he’s gasping for air, and you beg him to hold on. Tears stream unashamedly down your face, stinging your eyes and blurring your vision as you look down at him. He looks you straight in the eye and though he has every right to say, “This is your fault,” he smiles through the pain and whispers, “I love you. I’d do it again.”
He closes his eyes and dies.
All those horrible things you did, the way you treated him, the way you threw away his advice and his love despite that it was given with love and wisdom – they all come back to you. You can’t imagine why he would take a bullet for you, especially after you treated him so badly, yet he did.
And then, the epiphany.
A moment comes in your life when you think, “Maybe my way wasn’t the best idea. Maybe Dad had it right after all. I mean, look at me, I’m miserable, I’m lost, and I have never felt so alone.” So you drive back to Dad’s old house, which has been yours since he passed away, but you’ve never had the heart to visit. You head up to the attic where Dad kept all the mementos from your life, even the ones you could have sworn you threw away. You begin to sift through the boxes, and the memories come flooding back as you read the cards, the letters, smile at the trophies and groan at the report cards. You even find the photo albums and the scrapbooks detailing all of your major and minor achievements, even some of the failures and you see that Dad was so incredibly proud of you. He wrote in the scrapbook margins next to school projects or sports articles, “my warrior”, “my child”, “my genius”, “my joy”, “the future,” and you can almost imagine the dreams that Dad had for you.
And it hits you . You understand. As you read, you see the wisdom, the love, the sacrifice, and you get it. You GET IT.
You realize that getting your way isn’t always the best idea; in fact, sometimes it’s a really bad one. You realize that surrounding yourself with people who are only your friend until it’s inconvenient isn’t worth it. You learn that pain has direction and Dad’s rules were an attempt to spare you from it most of the time. You realize all of these things and, most of all, you realize that if you’d listened to your dad you wouldn’t have been out drinking to forget how badly that relationship with that person you barely knew went so wrong, and you probably wouldn’t have shot your mouth off to someone unwilling to put up with your crap.
You realize that you deserved that bullet. Your dad didn’t, but he took it for you anyway, even after all the awful things you’d said and done. You remember his words, “I love you. I’d do it again,” and a light goes off in your head. You fully understand what unconditional love is.
Your dad wanted the best life had to offer for you and you, in your selfish way, frittered it away. All of the dreams he had for you of achieving something of worth with your time and energy was wasted in bars or in front of the television. All of the ways he taught you to show kindness so that others could feel the same kind of love were wasted because you never showed it. You taught a different kind of lessons; you cut off people in traffic if they cut you off first, you assumed the worst intentions of others because it was what you’d do, and you’d never give unless there was something in it for you.
Right there, sitting in that dusty attic, you make the decision to start fresh. Your way may have seemed good on the surface, but it wasn’t working, not really. You decide to give Dad’s way a try and you take that first step in faith, like when you were a kid learning to ride a bike and you believed Dad when he said he’d catch you if the bike tipped (and it did and he did). You listen for Dad’s voice and you hear it, and your heart is full, and you remember that you have the best Dad in the world. Dad never said that life would be easy, in fact, Dad said that it would be a lot harder to live his way than your way, but he also said it would be worth it and that one day you would understand.
Dad was right. So you took another step, listening for his voice to help guide you and there it was telling you when you were on the right path, or the wrong one. Now, you try to live each day with the kind of love and compassion that Dad had, and some days you succeed and some days you fail, but you always pick yourself up and move on because you know that Dad never expected you to be perfect. And he loved you, no matter what. You learn not to expect it from others either and you now give the grace that you received from him (even when you were a pill).
Your heart doesn’t clench in shame when you hear your dad’s voice in your head because you know that you have the best dad in the world. He’s your conscience and your cheering squad, your example and your guide, your rock and your lifeboat. He is the one that loved you when you were unlovable and he took a bullet meant for you even when you hated him. You remind yourself of his words when the pain of life is too much.
“I love you. I’d do it again.”
Each night before you go to sleep, you note the way that your life has changed, you thank your dad for showing you the way, and you thank him for taking that bullet and giving you a second chance. You wish that every friend, relative, co-worker, or stranger on the street had your dad. Because your dad is best father in the world.