He came in the door quite tentative, as though he was afraid of even being in the room. It was a kitchen, and his father was busy making a sandwich and was slightly distracted. “Hey Dad,” he softly interjected into the moment.
“Hey! How was the day?” His Dad spun his back to his son, opened the fridge, and started balancing a big collection of ingredients in his arms.
“You know, it was a day. Not perfect by any means. It had some parts that really sucked.”
His Dad smiled as he closed the fridge with his hip and turned back to making his sandwich. “Well, you know how life is. We don’t always get what we want,–[starts to sing it like Mick Jagger] but if we try sometimes…”
[singing] “…we get what we need!”
“There’s been an accident–I was, I was in, an accident.”
The sandwich froze in suspended animation. Totally still, looking straight down at his bread, the father very evenly asked, “You’re okay. You’re not hurt? No one else is hurt?”
“No! No. No, I’m okay, everyone’s okay, the airbags worked and the ambulance guys said we’d all be okay.”
His father slowly looked up in a very slow, very scary horror movie villain-ish kind of way. “And you said something about… my car…?”
His son gulped. “The car… the car is–I was in an accident. A lady, she was coming at me, and she was speeding and so I thought I had time to make the turn but….”
His father is listening in a very clinical way, and he responds likewise. His voice is unnervingly even. “Okay, well… if no one is hurt, and you’re not at a fault, then the other driver’s insurance will cover everything.” The son’s eyes bulge, and one might conclude that the official report may not align with his own. “The important thing is that everyone’s alright.”
“What if she lies though? It’ll be my word against her word, so…”
His father doesn’t take long to realise the son is delivering the truth in less painful portions. “Mmhmm. If the police can’t verify the stories they’re being told then who knows, right?” The ‘right’ part is goes with it’s own accusingly arched eyebrow. The father is barely containing an explosion of anger.
The son’s still too naive to notice his father is being facetious. “Yes! It makes me so mad that she might get away with that!”
“I can totally understand son.” The Dad slaps a piece of meat on the bread so hard it splatters his mustard, but he doesn’t even blink. “I can totally understand your anger. Your intense, burning, rage. It’s just so… intense, isn’t it? Isn’t it intense?”
The son’s starting to catch on and he realises he’s hiking pretty close to a bear. “Maybe I should just go and, and, think about this.” He gets an idea that he likes and runs with it. “Yeah! Dad, if it’s okay with you, it’d probably be good for me to meditate on how this happened to, you know, make sure I don’t do it again. I’m really sorry about the car.”
The dad clears his throat, struggling through his pain. “Thank you. Ah, yeah. That sounds like a good idea. You go. And we’ll talk about this later when we’re both not so… emotional.”
The son eats it. He blew it and he knows it. Resigned, he looks his father in the eye. “Are we okay Dad? You and me? Is this too big?” The son looks genuinely scared.
The Dad sees his son’s character underneath his mistake. He’s still seething, he doesn’t deny that reality. But he can see that his son feels genuinely bad. The only explanation for that is that his son cares and shares his wish that it never happened. “Nothing is ever too big. Ever. Do not make me confirm that by having to visit you in prison. But even there–yes–I love you. But you’re right. This one is big. I am currently seething and I am barely not screaming at you.”
“If you have to I understand.”
“I would also be the first one to call the cops if you did anything serious.” The son puts his hands up. “How bad is it?”
The son grimaces. “I don’t want to tell you.”
“AH!” His father cries out in anguish and buries his face in his hands. Eventually, he slowly emerges by turning the act into a facial massage and a chance at attitude renewal. “Okay. Okay. Yes. Okay. Clearly Bad. Bad. It. Is. Okay. But you’re okay, everyone’s okay. That is the important thing. That is what’s important. It is.” He’s really trying to convince himself it is.
“Everyone is safe. All the people are good. It was just the things Dad. Only things, no people.”
The Dad sees his son’s attempt to paint it all as favourably as possible and that makes him madder. “Yes. Just the… just my… car.” He just wants the kid to take it! And he’d demand that if he was half good at doing it himself, but at twice his son’s age even he still sucked at just eating obvious responsibility. The whole reason was because people did care when they made mistakes. That made it hard to stay mad.
Suddenly the son turns and says very authentically, “I’m really sorry Dad. It was my fault. I wasn’t paying attention. I’m so sorry about your car. I know you really loved that old thing.”
“A lot of my life happened in that car.” His son just looks at the floor, understanding that it was more than a car that was wrecked. It was a talisman that helped his Dad find his way back to some cherished memories. The father clears his throat. “Okay. I am mad, you feel bad, that seems… appropriate. I would definitely like some time away from you though.”
The son puts up his hands again, guilty. “For sure.”
“Okay, good. Thank you. That will help. Please don’t ah… don’t try to make me feel better. I’ve just gotta–this is really painful, and I’ve just gotta feel that. If I don’t I’ll end up resenting you, and I love you, so that makes no sense. I can’t feel that love at the moment, but I know it’s there, so I’m going to trust the love I have for you and spend some time focusing on other things and eventually we’ll be able to sit in the same room without me picking at your smaller mistakes untiI I finally create an excuse to yell at you a bit. If and–no, when–that happens, please think of it kind of like a pressure valve. It’s better than a full explosion.”
The hands go back up again. “Totally understand. Perfectly reasonable price for such a big and horrible mistake.”
He’s still biting back a lot of fury, but he also proud of himself. “I like to think so.”
“No no–you’re doing good.”
“Really? Because honestly, I just want to kill you right now.”
The son grimaces. “I get it. I kind of want to be dead right now.”
Now the Dad grimaces a smile. “That helps.” He nods, with tense approval. “That helps; knowing you want to die.”
The son is entirely okay with that. “Good. Good. Yes. A slow and painful death. I deserve that pain.”
“You’re my son, I don’t know if I need the pain, but the death… the desire to die does make me feel a bit better. Thank you.”
“No problem. Thank you. This is…” The son motions to the space between them. “This is very reasonable.”
The Dad mock smiles. “Good. Good. Well, I think I should eat something–keep my blood sugars in alignment, you know. So, uh, you have a good day and we’ll, uh, talk.”
The son pauses. He looks at his Dad again. “Thanks Dad. I’m sorry.”
They have a moment where there eyes meet and they both know they’ll be okay. “Go.” The son half-smiles as he heads back out the way he came in.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.