I was only thirteen when my father died.
Old enough to have memories of him, still too young to have a wealth of time invested. On that day, I remember an anger I had no idea what to do with. Or at least that’s what the emotional roller coaster I was captive on usually settled on.
I honestly don’t recall a lot about myself before the day he passed away.
I do remember spending nearly every recess period made available to me proving to others that I could run faster than them. Except the girls. I would bet them that they couldn’t catch up to me and kiss me. I’d then somehow run out of steam just behind the big tree where the teachers couldn’t see. I feel like that trick must’ve worked a hundred times. The actual number is probably far smaller.
I do remember hanging around in my backyard, probably saving the world as I climbed all over our swing set, listening to Adventures in Odyssey on my little portable radio. I’m certain that I struck fear into any would be invader with the way I’d come flying out of the slide with an impressive array of kicks and punches towards imaginary foes.
I remember being able to read bigger words faster, and with better comprehension, than pretty much every other kid. Which made me pretty successful when it came to Pizza Hut’s Book It Program. The only problem was that somehow my younger self didn’t care for pizza. I have no idea what I was thinking. My mother didn’t complain. I got to read, she got free pizza.
One thing I’ll always remember from right after my dad died was what my Grandpa Reed said to me. He was sitting in my dad’s chair by the front door when he told me that, “you’re the man of the house now.” I’m not sure that I even replied to that. I do know that those words were sharp. I remember being swiftly angry at the idea, then a weird feeling that may have been the concern of it being true weighing on me. How could I accept this role? And even if I could, what would that even mean?
I didn’t ever bring up what he’d said to me around anyone else for a long time. But as I look back, I know that it affected me. Seeing myself now as a man while barely a teenager, I had to stick to what I thought I knew. Because if the rules I knew weren’t true, then I had nothing else to hold on to. That part of my identity was fragile. Without my dad around, I didn’t have a lot of up close examples of what it meant to truly be a man. And with that, not a lot of intimate knowledge on how to be the other roles a man should be. A big brother. A friend. An uncle. A loving husband.
There are many, many ways in which I’ve failed at all of those roles at different times. And I’m learning more and more that my previous views on exactly what failing meant need a lot of updating. Because I’ve failed in large and small ways. But I’m not really aiming at listing all the ways in which I’ve gone wrong. Or even to explain away my mistakes as anything other than being the fault of my own. Instead this post is more just me sifting through a mix of emotions swirling in me, though this time for a different reason than that day so many years ago.
Over the years it’s become apparent as I’ve learned to be open to seeing it, that God did grace my life with men who could speak life into me. Men who had valuable lessons to teach me about what being a man really means. About grace, forgiveness, temperance, kindness, and love. Sometimes it’s still pretty hard for me to even accept that I could use some help, let alone absorb the lessons. But I’m grateful that even my stubbornness doesn’t always outpace the lesson as it comes my way. I am more certain now that there’s so much I’m uncertain about. I am glad for that perspective. That uncertainty looms large as I now continue in this life without one of the men who has meant more to me than I’d ever really known how to say, not being a part of it any longer.
This part should be the whole point and yet this is the part that I have no idea how to write. The prevailing feeling is probably one of confusion. But spikes of uglier stuff are there too. Even an excited curiosity for the future and joy for the good fortune for a loved one are both mixed in there. Eventually, I know that these things will come into focus, and I will know that God uses all things for my good.
I am more equipped to handle rough patches now. I’m not sure that I could quite call myself content through all circumstances but I can at least see where Paul is coming from. Still, unlike the younger versions of myself, I’m well aware of the benefits of growing in knowledge and wisdom. I seek out ways to improve by gathering insight from those farther along than I am. And right now I can’t help but lament losing a close relationship with someone who wanted to see that same growth in me. I do desire someone who could check me when I need it, or pray with me, or just show me how love is lived. But it’s not something I just toss an ad out for on Craigslist. And I’m not really sure the best way to find that.
But if there is one thing I’ve learned from the long term and short term mentors I’ve had, it’s that my Father is always there with me. I guess I’m now just praying He’ll send someone along to make it a little easier. Sometimes I feel like I’m still just that scared thirteen year old, facing life’s problems headlong without any real shot at taking them on myself.