(Gary Black Jr. mărturie din cartea sa “Preparing for Heaven”)
I remember the first time I saw my father cry. I was sixteen years old, and we were living in Texas. Every fall, all the schools in the state closed for a day or two so students and teachers could attend the Texas State Fair. As is the case for everything in Texas, the state fair was a “big” deal. Since my mom couldn’t get the day off work, my father decided to use a rare vacation day in the middle of the week to take my younger brother and me to the fair.
My father was excited, and my brother was beside himself with anticipation. But like many teenagers lost in their own self-centered world, I wanted to go with my friends and couldn’t imagine anything worse than a day riding roller coasters and looking at prize-winning llamas with my family. So I hatched a plan. I would play sick. I was rarely able to fool my mother with a feigned illness, but Dad was a relative rookie against my acting abilities, and I was pretty confident I could pull off a “Ferris Bueller-esque” ruse.
When he came into my room to wake me up, I gave him my best worst-stomachache maneuver. He seemed to buy it at first but soon returned with a thermometer. After he placed it in my mouth, he left to call my mom to seek advice. I took the opportunity to tiptoe across the hall to the bathroom and ran warm water over the thermometer. Before he hung up the phone I jumped back in bed with the sickness-proving thermometer in my mouth.
When he came to my bedside he asked why the water ras still running in the bathroom. A momentary wave of panic surged through me. When he pulled the thermometer out of my mouth I told him I’d thrown up and was washing out my mouth and forgot to turn it off. I groaned for effect. The look of empathy on his face told me I’d narrowly escaped being found out. Until he looked at the thermometer. His eyes narrowed and he looked down at me with equal parts concern and anger.
“Did you run this under hot water?”
“No!” I protested.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes! Dad, that’s stupid. I would never do that! Why?”
“That’s odd because it says here you should be dead. Your temperature is 112.”
Still I pleaded. I couldn’t stop the lie.
“No,” I said. “The thermometer is wrong! No. I’m really that sick. No . . . No . . . No . . . really, Dad! Really!”
He walked out of the room. Now I really was starting to feel sick. Shame and guilt had turned my stomach into knots. After a while I walked downstairs. The kitchen was a mess. I discovered my dad had been up early making breakfast. A rarity. He’d also begun to pack lunches for us. The old green aluminum ice chest was out and open, full of sandwiches, drinks, chips, and cookies. He was trying hard to make this a special day because he loved us. But I wanted none of it. Of course, this wasn’t the only time I’d lied, nor was it the only difficult situation my parents and I faced during my tumultuous high school years.
This was just perhaps one of the most painful and unnecessary of slights. In the midst of the mess, my father was standing at the kitchen sink, the thermometer still in his hands, his head bowed and his shoulders shaking as he sobbed. It was then for the first time that I knew that I could really hurt my father. Suddenly, he was mortal, not an unmovable block of granite, but a man whose heart could be broken by someone he loved. By me.
I can’t recall exactly, but I believe I did end up going to the fair with my father and brother. I do remember apologizing and admitting how ashamed I was. And I also learned the lesson that lying has a devastatingly long tail. It seemed an eternity to me at the time before I was able earn to my father’s trust again. It was a hard lesson.
Before that day, I hadn’t figured out how to communicate with my father, and he too was learning how to parent his oldest child, his first teenager. Our relationship was very different from his relationship with my grandfather, and my father was learning, just as I am now learning with my teenage daughters, how to adjust expectations from our own upbringing in order to provide what is best for our children who are living and maturing in a very different context.
The day I chose to play sick lay in the middle of what proved to be a long, difficult, confusing period of years during my adjustment from childhood to adulthood. My father was weary of my struggles; he was also hurt and confused. As he would later say, he was near the end of his rope with me. But he didn’t give up. And neither did I.
My lie revealed the harsh realities about my character and the nature of our relationship. It was brutal and painful. But in the end, I needed to see how my actions affected my father. That was crucial for me in order to see my responsibility in our relationship so that we could start rebuilding from a mutually agreed upon assessment of the truth of who each of us were to the other. Thankfully, our relationship has steadily progressed for the better ever since.
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