The Good Father

Long shadow of a man with impossibly wide looking legs 

By Doug McVadon / Dorrier Underwood

I didn’t know my moment was at hand.

She walked toward me with a grim look, and said “Daddy I need to tell you something”.  She motioned me behind a screen that created a private space in the greasy, fluorescent-lit dining room of the small restaurant in Yangshuo, where our 17-member family group was on its seventh day of a grand tour of China.

“I don’t want them to see me cry.”
What is it?
Looking up at me, she fought back tears long enough to say, “I broke it!”
Broke what?
“Your camera!” she said, bursting into tears.

I looked at it, not yet quite believing, and Meredith told me the story:  They were goofing around taking pictures of the live crawfish in a bucket in front of the restaurant, when Elena, her 11-year old cousin, surprised her by trying to hand her my camera, and she reacted by blocking it, rather than catching it.  My trusty little Nikon, a 50th birthday gift from my family, went skittering across the concrete.  And indeed, it was broken.

I have blown my stack before over lesser mishaps - a spill on the carpet, a forgotten promise - and I had promised not to do that on this trip.  Little did I know the test would come here, in the scenic town at the end of the famous Li River cruise, on the Friday night marking the end of our first week in China.  But then we never know in advance when we will be tested, or it wouldn’t really be a test.

I saw her crestfallen look, the mix of fear and upset, and all I wanted to do was hold her.

I did not have the angry reaction she undoubtedly feared.

I would like to say I curbed my anger, controlled my upset.  But the truth is, I reacted exactly as I felt, with compassion and sympathy.  I’ve blown it before,

ruined something valuable, wrecked my new car; I know the utter despair that sweeps over one, the feeling of doom and helplessness.

I held her close to me, feeling her sobs wrack her young body, and whispered, “I know you didn’t mean to, and I forgive you.  It’s only a camera, and I care more about you than about a camera.  We’ll deal with it, you’re okay, and I love you.  And thank you for coming to me directly and telling me yourself.  That was the right thing to do, and I appreciate it.”

She said Uncle Jim had told her to go tell her dad right away, and I told her he was right, and thank you for listening to him.

She went back out to find her mom  Moments later my wife walked up to me, and in front of everyone gave me a big, long kiss on the lips.  “Thank you” she whispered.

And that’s how I became the Good Father; the one who understands, who takes the long view.  It has taken many mistakes along the way, but now I am being a parent, when parenting is called for, and not just another man who loses his temper when he decides other people are to blame for what doesn’t work for him.  I’m saying goodbye to that guy

    Search Dorrier

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