Have you ever revisited a memory only to discover that your recollection was, in some way, skewed?
This happened to me recently.
I was thinking back to when I was 12 or 13, spending a day with my dad. We were in Morocco. Epcot’s Morocco.
My folks had recently divorced. At the time, my sister and I were living in Jacksonville, Florida, with my mom but for reasons I can’t remember, this day-trip to Orlando was just for Dad and me.
We were having a blast – “hoofing it” as Dad always said – walking quickly all over the park to take in as much as we possibly could in 12 or so hours. Just before dinner, we stopped at Morocco, and as we admired the leather goods in the shops, I told Dad I needed to visit the ladies’ room.
There, I discovered what every adolescent girl dreads.
And dear God. I was not prepared. No purse. No supplies. Nothing.
Feeling slightly nauseous, with butterflies in my stomach, I marched outside. Dad was standing by a dim streetlamp, basking in the sunset over the man-made lake.
“Dad, I need a quarter.”
He looked down at me with his calm, bright blue eyes, smiled and asked, “Why do you need a quarter?”
“Uhmmm. For the machine in the ladies’ room.”
His forehead wrinkled and lips puckered in perplexity.
Time stood still for me.
Perhaps a millisecond later, he began to fumble ferociously for a quarter, patting his shirt pocket and the pockets on the front and back of his shorts without feeling anything. Finally, he found the handful of change, opened his palm, and fished out one shiny 25 cent piece.
I took it from him without a word.
When I returned, he was fidgety. There was a crisp air of uncertainty about him.
“So,” he tried to sound casual, “Where would you like to eat? We can go anywhere in the world!”
So Dad. So typical of Dad to attempt humor just then. And I showed my gratitude with a grudging smile.
We settled on Japan, where, over my first-ever bowl of udon I also felt for the first time that necessary parting of ways – the separation that comes between the child and the parent, and in this case, between a girl and her father. Things would be unsaid. Experiences would be unshared. Life would be lived separately.
But there is more.
I used to think this story was about me and the time my monthly cycle began at Epcot Center. And it is – in a very small way. What’s more important however, is that Grace showed up that day, and taught me a lesson for life about men.
My dad is a gentleman through and through. That doesn’t mean he always responds with composure or perfect words the first moment of a challenging situation; it means that he will respond correctly when given the fullness of an opportunity. The distinction is important.
This little incident was a building block planted by Grace in my life. How do I know? Because my father’s response to me – initially awkward, but full of love and tenderness – was a foreshadowing of interactions I would later have with my husband. By looking back on this memory, I can see that I was being taught that today I am to give my husband room and time to respond with the love and compassion I know he has for me, even if the circumstances of any given situation take him by surprise.
Men get a lot of bad press these days, and yes – there are more than a few out there who are behaving poorly and thus becoming fodder for headlines, memes, and tabloids. But I’ve been blessed to know many good men – righteous men who through their actions, big and small, show their love and concern for the women and children in their lives. Fathers especially, who shepherd their families with perseverance and thoughtfulness. They aren’t showy or prideful about their contributions; they do it out of the purity of their hearts, and we would do well to honor them appropriately and regularly for it.
The love these men express is a reflection of the bigger Love – the eternal Love. The One that brought all of us into being through the free gift of Grace and uses individuals to do work in the world. Love is an unparalleled force that we cannot escape, and we desire it above everything else.
Relationships with parents can be complicated. Holidays like Father’s Day can stir up a whole host of emotions. But deep within, many of us want to feel or say something more than, “Have a beer on me, Dad!” “Play some golf!” “Take a load off!” or the generic, “Enjoy your day!” Even if our dads have passed on and our interactions were troubled, we want to have hearts of gratitude for these men who touched our lives so deeply.
The not-so-secret secret that Grace teaches is that gratitude is a practice that can be learned. So here’s an exercise for building gratitude for your dad (and indeed any man in your life) that you can try – today.
1) Think of time when he was tender to you. An isolated incident.
2) Visualize yourself through his eyes. Remember that you were his child. Consider how he must have felt as he looked at your face. However imperfectly he expressed his emotions for you, try to imagine the stirrings of his heart.
3) Add the emotion you feel from this “imaginative view” to your databank of knowledge about your dad. Assume his best intentions. Grant him a bit more grace in your heart and you will want to act toward him accordingly.
Can the past teach us about the present?
Does Grace always show up in our life’s story if we look closely enough?
I believe the answer to these questions is ‘Yes.’ And we can respond with gratitude today if we can gradually come to believe that there’s a God who was walking with us then, and who walks with us still.