I love being a father. Most of the time.
The days are long. Noise. Phone calls. Problems. Complaints. Relentless distraction.
It is evening, kids are getting ready for bed. I grab my book and settle into a quiet place. For the first time all day, quiet in my mind and my soul.
The silence is short, interrupted by the scream. Based on the noise, the injury must be severe. At the very least blood. I imagine a pencil protruding from an eye.
I am interrupted. It feels as if someone has stabbed me in the soul. Life pours out of it like blood and anger fills the void. I mark my spot and lay the book down on the table.
I begin the march upstairs. What could it be? Would I be making a trip to the hospital? Again? How much blood? Will there be a stain in the carpet? Maybe I should have grabbed the carpet cleaner before coming up. Maybe I should just keep the cleaner in their room.
By the time I make it to the last step, the screaming has settled. The shriek has changed from pain to anger. Less agony. More yelling. Conflict.
I look around the room and make a quick assessment. Everyone is breathing. No spots of red. No twisted arms. No vomit. Good.
The inquisition begins. What happened? Why did you throw that at his face? Why did you destroy his lego creation? Why did you say that to him, of course he threw that at your face?
I want to throw things myself. A different line of questions run through my head. Why? Why this interruption? Why can’t everyone just go to bed without incident?
I sit, trying with all of my self-will to listen. Trying to forget the silence I had hoped for. Trying to forget the quiet I needed.
The answers to the questions are ridiculous. The reasons absurd. You might even say immature. Imagine that. It is hard not to laugh. Maybe if I laugh, I won’t yell. Laughing seems like a good strategy.
I want to tell everyone to just shut up and go to bed. To stop. This is not that big of a deal. This is not worth fighting over.
I understand in that moment that parenting is not exactly what I thought it would be. When the news of pregnancy comes, when the blue line appears, I imagined something different.
I dreamed of playing baseball in the back yard. Camping trips filled with laughter and ghost stories and s’mores. Special moments between father and son.
I dreamed of a love that could not be broken. A relationship that could withstand everything life would throw at it. We would be the best of friends.
I was partly right.
Fatherhood is this moment. This yelling. This fight. Tempers running wild. When the self demands its attention.
What I do now matters. The issue isn’t the offense or the trite remarks thrown back and forth. The boys are trying to understand the world they live in. Self-awareness is beginning to grow.
Do they really matter to anyone? Are they significant? Is the world a safe place?
Are they loved?
They don’t understand these questions on a conscious level. My job is to understand this for them.
Love fills our lives with good times. Happiness and joy. But real love is all about the hard times.
This moment that I dread, the fights, the tempers, the interruptions, this is the moment when being a father matters most. This moment, though the details will become fuzzy with the passage of time, will be remembered by them forever.
I have two options. Say whatever is necessary to get back to the quiet. Or sit and listen patiently, helping them to understand that everything will be okay.
I can love me or I can love them.
I let go of me, if only for this moment. I sit and listen. I gently nudge through kind words. Tempers settle. Calm ensues. World War III is averted.
I walk back down the stairs. Thinking. I wonder how often I scream. Do I interrupt God? Is he busy doing something divine like creating a supernova that will dazzle the entire universe, his concentration and peace interrupted by my scream?
I imagine him slowly walking upstairs to quiet the mess I have created. His walk was harder. It took him into a body. He became flesh, letting go of his divinity. Letting go of immortality. His march took him took him to a cross. The death of a criminal.
He stopped. He listened. He died. All for me. All for you.
I head towards the bedroom. My path takes me by my book. I offer it a raincheck. It gladly accepts, understanding that there will be another time.
I lay down in bed. My eyes close, welcoming the rest that meets my weary, but joyful soul.
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