In Iron John: A Book About Men, Robert Bly discusses the wound given to young children by their fathers; a hurt which takes the rest of their lives to resolve, while also creating a window for their soul to enter and define itself.
My Dad taught me a lot of lessons leading up to this wound. In many ways, he taught me a lot of lessons by example; showing me the correct – or incorrect – way to do things. While he was a wonderful man, he didn’t always get it right. These times caused painful reminders of the hurts a parent can bestow upon their children, no matter how much they love them.
While the times were very sweet when I was a child, Dad and I didn’t get along very well as I grew into my teenage years. We knew how to push each other’s buttons in a fierce way, resulting in many screaming matches that left us both depleted and drained of our energy.
I remember the first time I told him the words a parent never wants to hear after a fierce disagreement over my curfew.
The curfew was immediately withdrawn. Yet, I felt more the loser in the argument than the victor for getting what I thought I wanted at the time.
I can’t take those words back, no matter how much I wish it were possible. In that moment, the little boy who saw his father as Superman was now throwing the harshest of words at the person who sacrificed everything to raise the mouth that dealt them.
He absorbed those words. Painfully. Things were never the same after that moment. He now saw me as more than the little boy he once lovingly tossed into the air at the pool, while I looked at him as more of an adversary – neglecting the reality that this was the man who would give his very life for mine without hesitation.
I screamed those words because I knew they would hurt him deeply. Perhaps it was my own way of taking a stand for myself and doing my best to be what I thought a man was. No matter the case, I was wrong and deeply regret that moment.
After the argument, I apologized and was immediately forgiven. It couldn’t have been easy for him to forgive me, but he did and it meant a lot to me to be on the receiving end of grace.
Several months later, I received news that would change the course of my life after returning home from church on a Sunday afternoon.
Following a service at Christian Assembly in Columbus, OH; our family church, I went downstairs to my room and began my usual routine of playing video games while talking to my friends on AOL Instant Messenger (IM).
The phone rang. I answered. The next few hours were a blur, drowned in shock and adrenaline.
Dad was being rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. He passed out in the bathroom at the local Tim Hortons while taking two of my brothers out for post-church lunch. They didn’t know the problem was, but it didn’t sound promising.
The time that passed could have been hours, or days. It didn’t matter. Every possibility ran through my mind and I prayed to whatever god would listen to me that my Superman was ok.
“It’s a just an accident” I thought, hoping it would be trivial.
There’s a part of your gut that knows when something isn’t right. And in this case, that part of my soul was screaming hysterically.
It felt like an eternity until the phone rang…again.
Dad had cancer. Late-stage colon cancer.
The months that followed were painful ones. I watched as the man who once raised me over his shoulders, the strongest man I knew, suffered through intense bouts with chemotherapy, invasive surgeries, and visits to the hospital.
These times were the most difficult moments of my life. Not just for me, but for our entire family as we came together to be strong for our Superman.
Throughout all of the trips to the hospital, I made it a point to never let Dad see me cry. His suffering was more than enough for him to bear. I wanted him to see me as a man that would stand strong and care for the family in case he didn’t pull through.
Dad also stood strong during these times. He made it a point to look me in the eye when he spoke to me and always gave me a firm handshake when I said goodbye after a hospital visit.
One day, I went to visit Dad in the hospital and wore a suit. I had just purchased the suit for a college event and wanted him to see his son look like a man. It meant a lot for us to see each other in this way. Somehow, we both knew that one of us was growing up while the other was fading away.
That day, I told him that I would take care of the family and do my best to provide for them. He did his best to reassure me that things would work out.
As I stood to leave, I extended my hand for a handshake and the moment I feared was now upon me.
Dad was unable to give a firm handshake. His hand, frail and soft in my own.
I made it out of the hospital room before slumping against the wall in the hallway of the hospital. The tears I had held back now flowed and I wept as I had never wept before.
He knew his time was coming, and he was ready to go home.
One day, while Mom was pushing him through the gardens at the hospice center, he looked up at her, simply saying:
“The King’s gardens look like these.”
Superman passed away on July 29th, 2017.
They say that no boys return home from war – only men. On July 29th, I understood the meaning behind the saying.