Another in a long line of disappointments made this a Monday worthy of any number of cliches about Mondays. When we have troubles, they seem to compound rapidly and that uncomfortable sense of dancing in quicksand quickly tightens it’s grip with each misstep made. That these missteps take place on Mondays with an alarming frequency makes me worry that my life is somehow imitating a Garfield comic strip; fitting and depressing all at once.
I opened the toolbox, the last of the remnants of my life before, where I kept what tools I could salvage from my old shop. The shop had had 2000′ square feet of space, a veritable man’s cave of men’s caves, a place where welding and woodwork and shenanigans centered around a woodburning stove occurred. It wasn’t perfect, but it was mine, a place of refuge and creativity and clutter. Now, outside of a pallet’s worth of tablesaws and various tools stuffed into the moonshine plant where I work a little, all that I had left was crammed into this Toyota pickup toolbox, a few power tools and straps and wrenches, anything I might need in a pinch. As the toolbox opened, the smell was too familiar, the musty stench of some grandmother’s basement assaulting the senses. Humidity and unusual rainstorms over the summer had wreaked havoc on my little collection. A patina of rust settled on the tools and broke my heart in one swift motion. The moonshine boss was at a loss as to why I was so upset, but he couldn’t relate to the fact that these were the tools I had had for over a decade, long before my marriage and its collapse, a connection I had to self-reliance and a former family life, before chaos ruled. And now, that, too, was rusting away before me.
When I glanced down after bashing my head into the hood of my truck out of frustration, I noticed that my vehicle inspection tags were overdue, which led me to look at the license plate, which told on me as well. I was out of compliance, by many months. More blood would have to be pulled from the stone. I began to feel that old tension, anger and sadness well up in me, all too familiar companions. Payday was two days away, and our toilet paper supply was getting perilously low, and insurance agencies wanted their payments and the boys want books from the book fair, and the number of directions in which we get yanked seems endless, limited only by the number of people who want a share of your hide.
It reminds me of that far off look that the homeless junkies give us when we arrive to provide medical attention; I get that. Their eyes are wandering off to a place with less pain or need or insanity, and we’re all a lot closer to them than we think. I muttered to myself through another round of laundry and dishes and homework checking, wondering when the day would be done with me. I hear a tearing noise and look up to see that my youngest Heathen has ripped the dog’s play toy, accidentally, in a classic game of tug-of-war with the hound. This brings my mind to the brink of war with itself. It’s not a big deal, but it’s a big deal. The boy then trundles up to his bed to await the inevitable lecture about how wasteful we’re all being. While waiting, his foot kicks the blinds next to the window off their perch and he loses his mind.
I come boiling into his room, the steam valves of my mind long popped. I can’t take this, another hit to what little order is left in my world. He’s bawling, I’m biting my lip I’m so upset, not wanting to let the torrent of colorful phrasing escape past my jaws. He’s quivering and crying under his comforter, sure that he’s committed the gravest of sins in our household. I tell him, softly, to come join me in the living room. This only freaks him out more.
I can’t do this anymore today. I’m upset and broken down and he’s convinced he’s probably going to prison after being grounded for life. He sits on the couch and I wave him over to my lap and I sense the fear in his eyes. He knows he’s into terrifying territory and is unsure of what’s coming next. He proceeds to lay down on my lap, face down, puzzling me.
“What are you doing, son?”
“Getting ready to take a spanking, Dad. I deserve one.”
Tears well up in both of our eyes. I had had no intention of going down that route, I had decided much earlier that what we both needed more than anything was to hug this one out. I told him as much and he exploded in sobs, apologizing like he’d murdered a drifter, arms around my neck, relief washing over him to the point he was gripping me tighter than I’d experienced in a long time. He had no idea that I needed that hug from my boy every bit as much as he needed to know that I was still there for him, still on his team, no matter the trouble on his plate. He didn’t need lectures or discipline or disappointment; he needed the kind of unconditional love that comes from deep within the soul of a parent, the kind that never gives up. It’s so easy to want to give up on so many facets of our lives, and when we’re overwhelmed it often seems like the only choice, but our kids? That love never ends, there are truly no boundaries. More overwhelming than the burden of our own choices is the capacity for love that we have for our children, and, given the chance, that they will have for us. What a precious, beautiful gift, and one for which we hardly qualify. This is my redemption, the quiet example of grace wrapped in the presence of my own children. Tears of my own gratitude escape me and mingle freely with his as the scared son is comforted back to a safe haven in my arms. No matter how many times I tell them, he can’t truly fathom that he and his brother are the single greatest aspect of my life, gifts for which I can never be thankful enough.
He faced me to face the consequences of his actions, an act that required more courage than most of us, myself included, can do with any measure of comfort. His ability to do this, at age 8, gives me hope that perhaps the right things are getting passed on to him. I stumble, my license plates expire and my tools rust due to weather and thoughtless neglect, but I’m given a generous helping of what’s still right in my world every time my boys and I face this world together. How very priceless, their presence in my life and in this world. I can only hope they never are at a loss to know in their hearts the boundless love a father has for his sons.