So, I finally figured out my dad loved me. (Why are guys’ relationship with their dads so complicated?) It wasn’t when I wanted to find out, twenty years after my dad died. But, hey, better late than never, right? Still, if I could have done it any other way…
My wife and I were kissing our kids goodnight after twenty minutes of their diddling around: drinks of water, bathroom runs, the clearing of real and imaginary obstacles: glow-in-the-dark sneakers, dragon poop (don’t ask). They were finally in bed.
I began the benedictions. For Beth it was, “I love you more than insert-increasingly-huge-object here.” At the moment it was “the Milky Way.” For Mandy it was, “I’ll never stop loving you.” Only lately she’d started cutting me off with, “Yeah, I know, Dad.” I needed a new line.
Finally, Trudy and I did our own bedtime rituals, hit the lights, and assumed spoon drawer positions.
And then it began:
Titter, titter, titter.
“Honey,” Trudy whispered.
“Get back in bed!” I yelled. The titters stopped. Little feet thumpa-thumped back into their room. We started to drift off again.
Titter, titter, titter.
“You heard Daddy!” Trudy shouted.
Thumpa, thump, titter, titter, titter.
“Last time!” Trudy warned. “Get back in bed and stay there!” Even I was scared.
We’d almost made it to slumberland when the thumps and titters resumed.
It was an unusually bad night.
“OK, that’s it!” I shouted. I leaped from the bed. Ran out the door. Down the hall and into the kid’s room. Just in time to see the covers wafting down onto their beds and hear the springs squeaking frantically. And then I lost it. I shouted. Not in that controlled “parent” way like my wife did. More like an erupting volcano:
“Don’t you dare get out of those beds again! Do you hear me?”
Brittle, terrifying silence.
“Do! You! Hear! Me?”
And then, the worst sound in the universe: the sound of children crying—not ordinary kid-crying, but the sound of children crying out of fear. Fear that I had created, that I, their father, had created. Because I was mad. In both senses of the word: Angry. And crazy. Because these were–are–two of the three humans I loved most in the universe.
My dad had this anger thing. He’d go along for weeks or months at a time, and then something would set him off, and he’d detonate. Like an atom bomb. He scared the you-know-what out of me. But you know what I hated most about it?
That I caught it from him.
I looked down at Mandy and Beth, crying in the dark, and I suddenly knew two things: I never wanted them to be afraid of me. Ever. And I never wanted them to doubt my love. Ever. So I got down on my knees between their beds and asked God to forgive me.
Then I asked Beth and Mandy to forgive me.
Mandy crawled out of bed and put her skinny little arm over my shoulder and said, “I forgive you, Daddy…and I know you’ll never stop loving me.” Then Beth was there, crying because Mandy was crying, and she said, “I love you universes and universes full!”
There was a third thing I knew that night–really knew–for the first time ever: That my dad loved me. Because for about five minutes I was him, all anger and self-loathing, and I suddenly realized that, along with his anger, I got his love. And I knew that he would have died a thousand deaths for me, just like I would for my kids.
Because he loved me.
Pastors, Teachers, and Actors: The above is a personal account, but you can download a performable script version by clicking here.