One night when my daughter was in kindergarten I was putting her down to sleep, and as I was leaving the room, she said, “Daddy, a girl at school called me a mean name.” “What was it?” I asked. She covered her face with her hands and said, “I don’t want to say.”
I arrived at the DMV late on a Friday afternoon, hoping to get my driver’s license without suffering through a long wait. I never imagined the monumentally awful experience that was about to unfold.
To President George W. Bush: Mr. President, I’m writing to tell you that I watched the eulogy you gave your dad this week, and it hit me hard. I thought you were going to get through it without giving into emotion, but right at the end, grief snuck up on you and did a sucker punch to your gut. The tears came.
It was Christmas of 1984, and my mother crammed my three older siblings and me into a compact car and took us to Arkansas to celebrate the holiday. I vaguely remember it — my mother, on the other hand, remembers it quite clearly. Apparently, it was pretty rough. No doubt, putting one adult, two older teenagers and two small boys into a small car for six hours was a recipe for disaster. One of us — I shall not say who — was behaving horribly and Mom couldn’t seem to get control of the situation. She was exasperated nearly the entire time.
A few weeks after my first child was born, I told my dad off. At the heart of my complaints was one central failure: Ever since I was a kid, he had failed to show up.
Last summer, my dad was in crisis. He was in the hospital after another near miss with death, and based on his track record, it would kill him if he went back to his old apartment and tried to live independently. And while I couldn’t imagine sending him to a nursing facility, we didn’t have a lot of options.
Last autumn, my brother Caleb and I knew our father didn’t have much time left. He had been in the hospital intensive care unit three times in one year and although his mind was clear, his heart was failing. But he refused to admit it – and that presented a minor problem.
When I was five years old, I was playing outside one day when a wild man in an old truck sped into our driveway and slammed on the breaks. Thank God my dad was there. “Get your boy out here!” yelled the middle-aged man, who threatened to assault my 12-year-old brother, whom he accused of something. I couldn’t hear what the accusation was –all I knew was that the man was serious. As it turned out, however, my dad was more serious.
I stood in the shallow end of the swimming pool waiting for my sobbing 5-year-old daughter to jump in. This had been going on for almost 15 minutes. “I’m scared,” she cried.
The day my oldest daughter was born, I held her in my arms in the hospital and made two promises: “First, I promise I will never leave your mother; and second, I’ll show up. I’ll do everything I can to be at your recitals and ball games and dinner around the table.”
I had a plan yesterday morning. When I got back from the gym at 5:30, I was going to write until 7:00 a.m. But it was not to be. A baby and his dirty diaper was going to ruin it all.
When I was seven years old, my dad took my brother and me on a hike around our small town in south Mississippi. That hike would turn into one of the most terrifying moments of my life.
I did not enjoy going to church last Sunday. I took my three kids to the service by myself because my wife wasn’t feeling well. The journey started out well enough — we were in the car and only running 12 minutes behind when we pulled out of the driveway. But it was all downhill from there.
A lot of folks like me hit their 20s or 30s and suddenly realize all the things their parents got wrong. The blame rolls in. Our insecurities, troubles with romance, inability to develop healthy friendships, whatever — all of it comes back to mom and pop. If only they hadn’t done this or that, we would be healthy and whole. When my parents divorced after years of trying to keep it together, I didn’t know what to do with their relationship. In the back of my mind, I knew there were bright moments, but I simplified things by seeing their relationship as one big mistake.
Yesterday, my wife and I had visitors over, and my newborn son started crying — probably because he was tired and needed to go to sleep. We tried to play it cool while attempting to calm him down. We even gave our visitors a shot at soothing him, but none of it worked. He kept on crying, so I finally left the room and went upstairs to console him. It took 30 minutes, and it required a lot of creativity.