There are a lot of things about my dad’s parenting I would change if I could go back in time. Instead, I take those memories and wring the lessons out of them that I want to be sure to unlearn as I journey through parenthood myself. But, some days I am surprised.
Some days something beautiful surfaces.
I am sixteen and desperately smitten with the guitar player in our Sunday school class. I am also tall and gangly and awfully uncool. And my dad is the Sunday school teacher. Throughout his lesson I am distracted by Mr. Guitar, his crew cut and calloused fingers. I want him to notice me. And all I have going for me is a hidden stash of candy.
I am snacking on it surreptitiously. Mr. Guitar notices. He notices me. And he winks and signals and I understand that I should pass him some. We are sitting in a circle and most of the rest of the class is now watching me too.
Center of secret attention is a role I covet. So, I sneak a piece of juicy, chewy candy out of my pocket and flick it across the circle towards Mr. Guitar. I watch it sail in an arc above our heads. Then I watch it descend.
I watch it descend right onto my father’s head.
The teenagers break into nervous laughter. The lesson stalls and giggles spurt out of the group. My dad stops mid-sentence and looks at me. And he has no idea why we are laughing.
He has no clue that a sugary piece of jellied candy is perched on the very top of his head. He is bewildered. And the class laughs harder. I laugh with them. I laugh into my father’s confused eyes. And I feel horrible.
Finally I reach out and up and into my father’s hair to retrieve the morsel that has so righteously betrayed me.
I don’t remember anything else about the lesson or the morning. All I remember is that my father didn’t say a single thing about it to me. Where I expected an outburst there was only silence and gentleness.
It would be a week before he would broach the topic.
He and my mom sit together across the lunch table from me the following Sunday and he explains the event from his perspective. Across roast chicken and baked potatoes I learn the level of embarrassment my father had felt.
My cheeks burn as he shares with me how painful it was to look to his daughter for help and find only ridicule. To hope for assistance and find only amusement. To wonder why he was the brunt of a private joke and discover his only daughter was the reason.
I had hurt him. I had hurt him.
And his tender, vulnerable explanation of how left me speechless. He had waited a week to talk to me about it because it had taken him that long to try and dislodge the hurt from his heart. And when he brought it to show me, cupped in his strong hands, I saw it for the gift it was
Here was gentleness where I had been callous. Here was careful deliberation where I had been rash. Here was respect where I had been rebellious.
Here was grace.
Twenty years later and that memory still moves me. It’s a snapshot of the parenting I want to deliver to my own children. The deliberate, generous call to obedience as opposed to the easier default to using fear to force it. It’s also the kind of love I want to offer all who are in my life.
Grace is effective because it is so irresistible. Like any good meal. And it nourishes the very bones.