PATRICK CANEDAY is an award-winning columnist whose Small Wonders column appears in several Los Angeles area newspapers. His book “Crooked Little Birdhouse: Random Thoughts on Being Human” was a finalist in the 2012 Next Generation Indie Books Awards. Patrick works full time in the entertainment industry and writes his column in the wee hours of the morn before another manic day sets in. He’s not a journalist or trained writer. He’s just a working man and parent trying to make sense of fatherhood, culture, society and himself. Read more atwww.randomthoughtsonbeinghuman.com.
I can do pony tails, but my braids are painful and sloppy.
I have 2 daughters whom I love and adore more than it is possible to describe. Sometimes I can pass as a parent. Sometimes my efforts are like my braids.
The day started like any other Sunday. Wake up, watch TV, Fruity Pebbles, cartoons. “What are we going to do today?” they ask.”Go to church,” I respond. Whine, complain, relent. Get dressed, change clothes, brush teeth. Change clothes. Change clothes. Change clothes.
It was a blustery day. Cloudy, slight drizzles, windy. The sermon came from a section commonly referred to as the “Hall of Faith,” wherein every sentence begins with “By faith…” and goes on to describe the amazing things a procession of biblical figures did by simply living through faith. In other words, people that threw off the Bell Curve for the rest of us.
The topic was Moses’ parents and how their faith in just the first few months of his life established a stronghold in him. The bible is a little fuzzy about what else this guy Moses did with the rest of his life.
The clouds blew away that afternoon, and the sky was blue as blue can be. With a good breeze going, it was the perfect day to fly a kite. The girls were overjoyed at the thought. They usually are when the day takes them to Toys R Us. We packed up a cooler full of drinks and snacks and set out with visions of this being one of those moments in a family’s life that would be a benchmark for happiness. Years later they would recall it with rapturous joy, “remember that day that Daddy took us to fly kites” they would say in dreamlike tones. They would thank me in their acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Aerodynamics, “it all started that day my Dad took me to fly a kite…”
We bought our kites: Tinkerbell, an owl and a WWII Fighter Plane. Guess which was mine. We then went to the wide open field at a local park. They played on the jungle gym while I assembled the kites. As usually happens when a boy tackles a project to build or destroy something, I was engrossed. So much so that I paid no attention to the clouds moving in. Looking back now, they moved in a direction I’ve never seen clouds move, as if they had a purpose.
The Tinkerbell kite was built and off went the 5 year-old, running and screaming with joy. Exactly the scene I pictured. I assembled the owl and off went the 7 year-old, equally happy. It was all coming together. A parent’s dream: happy children playing outdoors in perfect harmony.
Now I could focus on my fighter plane, an intricate craft that required much attention to detail. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the girls’ kites soaring and falling, soaring and falling. I interrupted my kite building several times to get them back in the air. The magic of this moment was slowly draining from their eyes, the way it does when kids realize something is not as easy as it looks on TV. Perseverance is a trait that comes later in life. At least that’s something my mother told me recently.
Just as I was finishing my kite, eager for takeoff, I felt the first drop of rain and willed myself to ignore it. This was not so easy because my mind was equally occupied trying to ignore the fact that the temperature had dropped to near freezing.
Right when I launched my kite, first one daughter then the other came sulking back asking to go home. With hands full on my own kite, I tried to delay them. “Keep running. It’ll get your kite back in the air and warm you up.”
But it was too late. They were done and there would be no convincing them otherwise. Their cries increased. My kite had just taken wing, a streak of blue fighting back an angry sky. The wind picked up, as did the crying. Kites, streamers and string were everywhere. Tinkerbell was grounded and tangled. The wise old owl was silent. But I was not done.
I snapped. “Can’t you just try to have a good time?” Rhetorical questions are lost on little ones.
“I want to go home,” was the sulking refrain back.
I commanded them to sit down and be quiet. My voice sounded like my father’s in the rare moments I’d heard him angry. And it scared me.
I looked to the sky for peace and assistance but only saw my fighter plane crash to the ground.
As I stuffed everything into the cooler, including the kites and my sunglasses, I got in one last shot. “All we try to do is show you guys a good time. Try to keep you entertained and make you happy. I guess all you want to do is stay home and watch TV.” And there was a silence so thick.
Then, just as we were packed and ready to get back in the car, I heard a whisper. “Thank you, Daddy, for trying to show us a good time. We love you.”
Quick and to the heart.
As we marched to the car, I was still mad. But my anger was turning entirely inward. In the car I heard sniffles from the back seat. Then a tiny voice said, “Daddy, are you mad at us?”
“No,” I replied through the swelling in my throat. “I’m mad at myself.”
“I just wish I were a better father.”
The guilt is strong in my family, uncontrollable, used like a switch but cutting so much deeper. Crocodile tears flowed, and I felt like the lowest form of scum on earth.
The whole event lasted no more than 10 minutes from the time we started building the kites to the point that we drove off in tears. I fear, as would any parent, that the event may last a lifetime in their memories. Something for which I will be paying their therapist and mine for years to come.
At home we sat on the couch, defeated, demoralized and spent. They nuzzled up close, unafraid of the big scary monster, a child on each side in the crooks of my arms. They fit perfectly in there, like we were all designed to fit together, so comfortable. Tears streamed down my face now, and I summoned an apology from somewhere deep inside my soul. They looked at me with enormous, forgiving blue eyes and told me it was OK. They smiled and, like the Grinch, my heart grew three sizes. It was perhaps the most grown up conversation I’ve ever had.
Of course by this time the clouds had cleared and the day was as crisp and beautiful as it had been just an hour earlier. Never fails.
We spent the rest of the day outside, the kids playing, doing a dance recital just for me. Me, watching them with such wonder and awe, licking my wounds, amazed at a child’s enormous capacity for forgiveness.
Humble ourselves like little children. Another one of those bible figures told us to do that. And now I know why.