Today is my father's birthday. It's early yet but I'll call him later. We don't talk much, we never did. But we'll stumble through a conversation. He won't say much, I won't press him - that will be my primary gift to him. He's not a talker, my Dad, and my chatter irritated him when I was a child. I remember once him saying to my mother, 'How does his stomach stay warm when his mouth is never shut.' I was stunned by what he'd said. I thought it truly funny but what astonished me was that my Dad could say so many words, all in a row.
As I get ready to make the call. I remember a moment from my childhood. A moment I did not understand for many, many years. It was Christmas. I had bought my father slippers. What a unique gift for a child to give his Pa! Anyways, I watched in anticipation for him to put the slippers on. I worried if they would fit. I was a child constantly consumed by worry - a habit that I have never broken. I was pleased that they did.
He wore them all day. I was pleased that he did. As we were cleaning up to get ready for bed, I took his new slippers to put them proudly under the tree. I felt something inside the toe and when I reached in the slipper I found that there was some paper stuffing inside. I was astonished. I gave way to some cruelty and made fun of my Dad for wearing the slippers with stuffing inside. He simply smiled at me.
It's the smile that bothers me.
I remembered this for no reason a few years ago. And, of course, seeing the situation anew, years later, as an adult, I understood it so much better. It's a pity that many choose to remember their parents as they understood them as children. Adults know the world in ways that children do not. Adults understand the world in ways that children never can. I have tried to visit my childhood, not for replaying childhood memories, but as an adult tourist visiting a familiar landscape.
The adult me wants to spank the child me. I did not understand that this man of few words was a father wanting his son to be happy. I did not understand that he made himself uncomfortable for a whole day, walking with wadded up toes against wadded up paper, just so I would not know that the slippers did not fit. He wanted to protect me from disappointment. And for this he got an ungrateful son with the insight of a toad. Although that may be unfair to toads.
My father is a kind man.
I wish to be my father's son.
I'd like to tell him that today but I won't. I'm going to put tight slippers on my need to express myself and give my father what he wants. A short conversation about not very much. A conversation that will say, 'I get it'.
A gift that I know will fit.