“Honor your Father and your Mother”
– Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16
Some stories and lessons are so important that they are repeated. So it is with many things in the Bible. So it is with many things in life.
For example, the creation story is told twice (in both Genesis 1 and then again in 2) – and they are not exactly the same, although the messages are similar. A wonderful book that explores these messages within the context of the marvelous mystery, joy and perseverance of the woman-man relationship – and the elusive mysteries of the human heart – is Bruce Feiler’s “The First Love Story: Adam, Eve, and Us.” I recommend it.
The story of the Ten Commandments is also told twice: once in Exodus and again in Deuteronomy. And elements of these are referred to throughout the bible. Take for example the Commandment “Honor your Father and Mother.” Seems straightforward enough, and for the most part it is.
Honoring one’s parents is important enough that Paul restates it in Ephesians 6-2. He wisely goes on to write, by the way, in the next sentence: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children.” Also, wise advice.
My parents are gone now. I was blessed with good parents (and pretty good genes, too; evolution – that thing really worked for me). They cared. They modeled good social skills. They were loyal. Above all, they really, really tried to be good, involved, caring parents – clearly showing as much love and patience as they were capable of, nearly all the time. Nearly.
I’ve written tenderly about my parents, referring to them more than a few times. In “What Dreams May Come” I expressed a notion that, when it comes my time to pass, my dad will come to fetch me from this world. Recently, in “I Got a Name” I traced some of my mom’s life trajectory; and in “Letting Go” I re-lived some of my dad’s special experiences through my own eyes and emotions.
One of the unusual things that most impressed me about my dad was his ability to hit self-toss fly balls and popups with a ball and bat. This is not a skill that comes naturally to anyone. If you are not athletic, then the awkward swing-and-a-miss is almost guaranteed every time. If you are athletic, and have played some baseball (like my dad), then the natural swing produces line drives and groundballs. Popups and fly balls are supposed to lead to easy outs.
When I was 6 years old I started playing organized baseball. From my earliest memory my dad had thrown me pitches to hit and played toss with me. But in a real game, I was bamboozled by the easy can-of-corn flyball. It was embarrassing. Reading a flyball off a bat in a game was completely different than catching a soft toss.
He knew I was ashamed. Heck, he probably was, too. So, he took me out in the back yard and tossed me higher popups. We soon progressed to self-toss batted popups that he would hit 30-50 feet. As I got older, he could hit them 75 feet, then 100 feet, then 150 feet. Whatever distance kids my age were hitting flyballs, he could duplicate in our yard, or – later – in a nearby field. It was quite an impressive skill. He was a coveted assistant-coach on my youth teams, as he would willingly spend hours hitting flyballs to any kid who wanted to practice. My teams had the best outfielders.
As the years went on, I was pretty much the best fly-ball shagger I knew. That I developed this talent and confidence was attributable almost solely to my dad dedicating himself to developing the skill to hit such popups and flyballs. And the fact that I would bug him to do so whenever there was a chance to practice; he rarely said no.
I only had one child who ever asked this of me. I tried my best, and over many hours, managed to only become mildly successful at it. I can attest that it is a difficult and unnatural skill; my well-developed baseball skills were almost a handicap. Yet, I never said no.
Yes, Dad could be a very patient man. He proved that in 51 years of marriage and raising six kids. Yet he was demanding at the same time. He always insisted that I make a good throw back to him, even after a great catch. No lollipops. No dribblers. “You want my time, you have to put forth your best effort.”
It wasn’t always so, however. When I was in the third grade our family had its 5th delivery from the stork. That was five kids in only 8-1/2 years (a 6th came only 3 years later). My dad was painting one of the bedrooms after a minor re-model and furniture adjustment to get all of us into the tiny rambler. I was “helping” – which means standing around, asking dumb questions, and learning by watching how to be a man, a father and a husband.
He was almost done with the job. Perhaps I had begged him to hit me flyballs when he/we were through. Quite likely. He thought he had poured enough paint into the roller pan to finish the bedroom, but it turned out he was a bit short. Maybe 10 or 20 square feet of the last wall remained.
Finally, my chance to help. “Dad, can I bring the can up from the basement for you?” Exasperated, tired and a bit amused, he said OK.
I went down to our unfinished basement, where my dad had a small work area, and fetched the can of paint. It still had the lid on it. Perhaps I’d be more help if I removed the lid?
I pried the lid off. In the process, somehow, the can teetered over and fell onto the concrete floor. Oops. I quickly got it upright, and stood there gawking in amazement at the mess I’d made. This was not an accident I could get out of; could not blame it on my sisters or bad luck. I had screwed up. And I didn’t know what to do. Except own up and take responsibility.
Sheepishly I went back upstairs and told my dad what had happened. He did that heavy-breathing-through-the-nose thing, made the “shhh –” sound without finishing the word, and we traipsed downstairs to see the mini-disaster. That’s when it happened.
My dad saw the paint can sitting there next to a white puddle on the floor. He pulled his right foot back like a football player for a 60-yard field goal and kicked that can as hard as he could.
To his amazement (and mine) the can was actually nowhere near empty. My reflexes had been quick enough to save quite a bit of pigment. Most of what was left splattered all over the cinder block wall of the basement. It was like a magnificent piece of single-color modern op art.
We stood there a moment, dumbstruck and shocked at what had just happened. Then my dad hustled over to the can, which had crashed and bounced lamely off the wall, and was lying on its side. He set it upright and looked inside. It still wasn’t quite empty. Neither of us said a word.
There still was a cup or two of paint in the can, which my dad calmly dumped into the roller pan. He went upstairs to finish the bedroom – amazingly there was still enough paint to complete the task, even after two paint-tastrophes. I stood there alone — shocked, ashamed, flabbergasted — in the basement. I couldn’t move from the incredulity of the last two minutes’ events.
After the room was done, “we” cleaned up my spill from the concrete floor. But my dad never cleaned those spots off the wall, or painted over them. Even though we stayed in that house over nine more years.
We never talked about that event again, until just before he died. In those slow agonizing months before death you know it is coming, you just don’t know when. You want desperately to spend time together, and after all those months you run out of things to talk about. Yes, we talked about all those hours hitting and catching fly balls. Childhood friends. Old girlfriends. Courtship. Marriage. Raising kids. Staying married. Family road trips. Whatever came to mind. (Why hadn’t we talked about much of this decades before? When it could have helped? Oh well).
Finally, out of topics and dreading silence, I worked up the courage to ask about his recollections of the can-o’-paint incident. Even after 50 years — and knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door — he recalled it vividly. Yes, he was sorry and ashamed. And that’s why he left the paint spots up all over the wall – he wanted to be reminded of how rash and impulsive and destructive he could be.
And that’s another thing that impressed me about my dad was the ability he developed to monitor and curb many of his natural negative energy tendencies. It was partly because those paint spots told him the lesson, over and over again.
I know that I received a lot of traits from my parents. Some inherited and some by nurture. Among them I lean more toward my dad in terms of being impatient, making quick decisions and taking impulsive actions. If jumping to conclusions and flying off the handle were sports activities, I’d be in great shape; I’d be Olympic caliber with little training.
I consistently need to respect and be aware of that. I have dark moments.
I also know that I have good genes and have had very good role-modeling from my parents.
I consistently need to respect and be aware of that, too. I know to do the right thing.
Some lessons are so important they need to be repeated.
So it is with many things in life …
Even if you have to repeat them to yourself.
Here’s to parents and parenthood: the good, the not so good, and all the blessings.
And here’s to honoring your Father and your Mother.
Joe Giard © 2018