There is nothing like the joy of a child, or your love for that child and that joy.
It’s snowing here tonight – very lightly, compared to our snow in December, but snow nonetheless. I have a memory that always returns to me when it snows here in Alabama. It is a memory of a father watching his only child play outside in an Alabama blizzard at something like 9PM, darkness never bothering the child and snow never failing to fascinate and excite.
I remember this man watching this child and seeing a sparkle in his eyes, despite his misery at being outdoors in the cold, dark night, wind howling and snow blowing from what seemed like all directions.
I can see him suffering at the hands of neuropathy and overworked muscles and joints, every step a sharp pain and every breath a hope for the snow to stop and the pipes not to freeze. But I can also see him glorifying the excitement and the newness of the snow in the child’s eyes and spirit, and struggling to roll the three parts of the snowman just in case it melted the next day.
Turns out, that snow lasted for almost a week, there was no power until days after the snow had melted, and the man saved the child from frostbite by giving the child his own full faced toboggan halfway through the snowman building process.
This man was willing to suffer for his child. He was willing to forgo the knowledge that his body would hate him the next day, that he wouldn’t be able to go to work (even though there was a blizzard his factory didn’t care – he was a supervisor and was expected to be there, no matter what).
He didn’t care that he was hurting or that he would pay a price for the temps in the teens and the random but grand night adventure. He played. He laughed. He threw the child in the air and caught the child. He didn’t let her fall. He never let her fall.
This man was my father, and this child was me. And I will NEVER forget that night or that blizzard, not as long as I live. I will never forget the milk and the goat cheese and the freshly churned butter and the wax paper wrapped venison and squirrel that he’d taken for us and cleaned and processed himself, literally buried in a drift of snow, or the cooler on the deck full of all the condiments and other refrigerated foods.
I will never forget his smile. His laughter. His attempts to run and to make six foot four inch snow angel and perfect lines of size sixteen footprints right alongside my own. I will never forget the light in his eyes, even in the dark, even in pain. I will never forget how warm I was when he would hug me up in his own coat or the comfort in the voice I have almost forgotten saying, “how do you like the snow? Are you having a wonderful time? Do you see and feel the magic?”
I am thirty nine now, and have an eight year old child of my own, and suddenly tonight I realize the sacrifice that was a part of what was one of the best memories I carry in my soul. I know now what he gave to me – not just suffering the cold that southerners “can’t bear,” or staying up late, or giving up his recliner and his comfort. He gave me his time. He gave me his patience. He gave me his love. He gave me his heart.
When you have a child, and you love that child, that’s what you do. It’s not even a choice. It’s just what happens. You don’t think about your own comfort, even if you repetitively say, “I don’t know how long I can stand this cold!” You just…do. Because the child brings out the magic and the joy that’s been buried in your soul by an exceptionally long overworked-with-nothing-to-show-for-it run.
You realize you have everything right there in your arms, and no amount of pain (physical or emotional) or cold or worry about the future is going to stand in your way of that moment. That now. That memory.
That’s what I experienced tonight. Tonight I became my father. And now I sit in bed and weep tears of both longing and joy. Because I was raised, protected, loved and spoiled by a loving man. A faithful man. A steadfast and gracious man. A good man, despite his flaws.
Watching my boy, and playing with him tonight in the cold and the wind and the little bit of snow that presented itself, I realized that I carry that within me and I am capable of giving it to my baby. Although eight years old, and someday 39, like me, my baby he will always be.
I love you, Daddy. And I am so grateful for the 36 years I had with you. Thank you for the life you gave me, and the heart you taught me to have. And thank you for the snowman.