My father hit me once, but he only ever hit me once.
What I learned from that single open handed hit was discipline, love, grace, humility, respect, and trust. The strike itself taught me the first lesson (discipline). I had been out of line. The rest I would learn a few minutes later when father returned to me. He asked me if I was ok (love), he apologized for what he had done (grace), he asked for my forgiveness (humility), he explained himself to me (respect), and he promised he would never raise a hand to me again (trust).
He kept his word and resumed to his role as my hero.
Over the next twelve years my bond with my father would grow. It’s only now that I realize how much I picked up from him. It was never just a card game, or time spent kicking the soccer ball around, or watching wrestling. It was all lessons. Unbeknownst to the two of us, or maybe just to me, I was soaking it all in. I picked up infinite lessons from Dad.
I see those lessons reflected in how I look at the world around me. I have my father’s green eyes, but now I don’t just see the world through eyes that look like his. I see the world through eyes that see like his. The things that he would like and dislike stand out to me, and I know what he would think about them. As a result, I see my mother in a whole new light.
“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.”
– Mary Oliver
From about thirteen years old until my father’s passing when I was twenty three, my mother and I were never very close. In my mind she was always the more cynical and the more pessimistic. Despite the hardships she faced in her life, Mom gave me everything I needed to succeed, but I was never sure if she really believed I would. While my father played the “Good Cop” role, I put up with my mother’s put downs and rose up in spite of them.
But here’s the thing… My mother, she bleeds love and devotion to that man.
Three years after he’s passed away we planted Oklahoma roses in my mother’s backyard by where she and my father would sit. Why? Because Dad always brought her roses, and they were high school sweethearts, and Dad was once in the school play, Oklahoma. Mom keeps a small light lit at night by his picture, in a special stone to keep badness away. Sweetest of all, three years after he’s passed away, Mom keeps a single pair of my father’s shoes out on her shoe mat in the entrance of their home. Their first home together, which they purchased as students, and have lived in together ever since.
I don’t know if those shoes are there as a landmark, that this will always be their home together, or if those shoes are there should Dad come home to us one day, or if they’re there because one day Mom will walk out of the house with him, just the way they used to… but Dad’s shoes on the mat is one of the sweetest things I’ve ever seen.
I learned much from my father, but in his passing I learned to befriend and love my complicated, but sweet and beautiful mother.
Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.
Thank you Mom and Dad. None of us were perfect, but I love you both.