Dad, you seemed kind of angry at me when you told me to get in the car,” said Brandt, my 5-year-old son. We were driving now on our second trip for the day to Home Depot. I sighed deeply. I looked in my rearview mirror. “You’re right bud. Dad was angry and he yelled at you.
I didn’t want it to be true. But I had been a ball of frustration after the dryer vent I bought on our first trip didn’t fit. And I needed to fix it today or the bees would continue building their nest inside. Which is why this was our second trip. I wanted my excuses to matter.
But I saw my son's face in the rearview mirror. He was worth the humbling.
I’m sorry, Brandt. Will you forgive me?
Once I swallowed my pride that was easy.
This is an actual transcript of a car ride I took with my son a few months back. We’ve had more conversations like this since then; they seem pretty normal now, a part of life as a father. It’s something I’ve worked to give my sons. Not my angry jabs, but the permission to call me out when I blow it.
Now I can’t imagine another way. If I expect to help them grow up, I have to admit I’m growing up too. I want my sons to know me as I am, flaws and all, not as some propped up cardboard cut out that I want to be.
This is what I believe it means to honor our fathers. You can’t honor your father if you don’t acknowledge his brokenness. Anything else is bullshitting you and him.
When I was 28, my dad and I spent a day on the river fishing. As a new Coloradan, I brought my fly rod. He had his spinner reel of course, an instrument he had mastered in the waters of Michigan. We part fished, part gasped at all the beauty around us for a better part of a day.
I felt at rest with my dad. He is a good man. Sometime in the afternoon, we got back in my car to head home. As I drove out of the canyon, my dad glanced in my direction and smiled. I recognized that look from the river; he’d given me the same smile when I reeled in my only fish of the day.
I’m sorry we didn’t do more things like this when you were a boy,” he said, his smile now turning to sorrow.
My heart just about jumped in my throat; he hit a nerve I didn’t even know was there. I looked forward and drove.
He continued, “I’m sorry I wasn’t there in a lot of ways.
A lump formed in my throat. “Dad, I don’t know what to say. This is a lot to take in.” I sat for a minute. “What happened?
I don’t know. I had all these plans to take you all out fishing all the time. But I got scared of being a father. And I never took you out. I’m sorry.
My heart could have burst about then. I felt loss and love all at the same time. I loved this man. And man, did I feel how I had missed him as a boy.
I forgive you dad. I think it's going to take a little bit for me to take this all in.
I understand. Take your time.
This is one of the most tender moments I have had with my dad. We have had many good moments. But the kind of space and validation he gave to my longing for him, for the pain I’d felt in that place, took away my breath.
I went home that day, laid down in my bed and wept for an hour. Tears of pain, but tears of gratitude too, for a father with broad enough shoulders to give that pain a place within his heart.
Your honor of your father has space to include your pain with him. There is no other way to enjoy the good things he has given you.