The vanity of a petulant 10-year-old can leave lasting marks. For all my complaints about my father’s silence and the distance between us, I cannot shirk responsibility for some of it. To understand that the words of a child can cause indelible harm, for parents are only human, in the end.
I remember clearly this day. A sunny afternoon in Santa Ana. I was rollerblading around the neighborhood without the knee and elbow pads and helmet that my father insisted on purchasing for me, afraid that I would fall and hurt myself. Because I often did. I still have scars (and am always accumulating more).
He was upset to see me skating without protection. Sat me down on our green leather sofa, in a huff. He loomed over me, talking about how I could get terribly hurt.
“And then who would have to take care of you?” Anger, frustration.
Coldly, or passionately, and petulantly, I retorted, “Mom!” And the moment it left my mouth, I knew it was a terrible thing to say. It didn’t fully register at the time. It didn’t until much later. Until I was in my teens, at least.
I hurt him when I said that. I guess at the time I knew that it would cut him, and in my immaturity, I didn’t care. Or perhaps that’s just the oblivion of a child. Oblivion and carelessness.
Things were never quite the same between us after that, it seems. Other things happened. Other trespasses, other mistakes. Until that day, until that moment, my father and I had a wonderful relationship. I was inquisitive and he was indulgent. I was his firstborn, his chatterbox bookworm little girl. That moment on the green leather sofa stands out in my mind as the moment when that all changed.
There was a time when I begrudged him for it. When I blamed him for the distance that opened up between us. He was my father and he should have forgiven the unthinking words of a child. But he is human, only human. And I can understand his hurt, now, because I see that we are so similar. That whatever changed between us, whatever changed in the way he felt or behaved toward me, was out of self-defense. I know what it is to have a heart that holds back and puts up shields for fear of hurt.
I hurt my father that day. I know I did. I can say I was just ten years old and didn’t know what I was saying. I can say that one moment could not have possibly changed so much. I can say that such words should not affect a father so much. But what if it did?
The parent guards the child from harm, but who can guard a loving parent’s heart from their children’s harsh words?
I can recognize his sensitivity because I’ve seen it in myself.