Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Relief of Rescue

One night a couple of years ago, I was having the most pleasant dream.  I was sitting on a bench, sipping a drink, while a parade marched by.  There were banners and horns and everyone was waving.  And my foot was very, very cold.  Suddenly I awoke, and my foot was still cold.  I looked down to the end of the bed, and I could make out my daughter’s silhouette.  She was shaking my foot with her chilled hand and she was whispering, “Daddy.”  I knew at once why she was there—she had wet the bed, again.  It was the third time within a week.  “I’m really sorry!” she said, as I was pulling off her sheet and covers. 

She was already changed and had gotten her sleeping bag out to sleep on the floor, but she had decided to tell me before bedding down on.  “Are you mad?” she asked.  “Well,” I began, “if pressed, I’d have to admit that I’d rather be sleeping through the night.  But never not tell me.  I’m not mad, Sweetie.  And I don’t want you sleeping on the floor.  We just have to figure out a way to get you to get up when you have to go.  I want you to get all your sleep, too.” 

Offering her as much reassurance as I could muster at 2 a.m., I tucked her back in over top layers of towels and blankets, went to the bathroom myself, and collapsed back in my bed.  And in the morning, I complained to my wife, again, about how I needed more sleep.  Nothing new there.
I was annoyed, of course, but that was one of those real parenting moments; and I couldn’t blow it.  Not the getting up and changing the covers and getting her back to sleep, that’s not what I needed her to see.  It was my attitude—that when my daughter needed me, and wanted me, she should never hesitate to come to me.  In case something really big happens, she needs to know she can race right to me and I’ll be there for her, just as she did as a kindergartener wetting the bed.   

The assurance I wanted give my daughter is partially the assurance Paul is addressing in his letter to the Galatians.  In Galatians 6:9, Paul writes, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”  What we can “reap” most in that “due season” is trust, the kind of trust that must be established at the beginning and then bolstered and buttressed over a lifetime, so that our children can at least know that there is always one safe, constant to turn to in their lives.  It’s the trust I am trying to instill in my daughter and son.  It’s the trust I always had in my father.  The trust he built for me.                

Somewhere in my early 20’s, I went through a phase where I kept locking my keys in the car.  I was driving a third-hand, red, battered, Pontiac Ventura.   This was in the days before remote controlled locks.  I actually had to push the down the locking stem on the door manually, with my bare hands.  And if my keys were still in the ignition, there was no friendly voice or pleasant gong to remind me before shutting the door and sealing the keys inside.   At the height of my negligence, I locked my keys in my car four times in two weeks.  And I’d have to call my dad to bring me another key.  To my great surprise, he never got mad, or he never showed it.  I remember that when he was sort of exasperated he’d drop his head and give a deep sigh.  And so when I would call him up from wherever I was, the library, the supermarket, the movies and say, “Dad, I’ve done it again.”  SIGH.  I could hear his head dropping over the phone.  “Where are you?”  And fifteen minutes later, he’d pull up, unwind the window an inch, stick the key out of the top of the window, and pull away.  He knew I didn’t mean to do it.  And I do recall that there was mention of some sort of magnetic box under the car with a spare key.  But that was after the last time I had a car key conundrum. 

Two friends and I went to see Paul Simon in Central Park.  Had a great time.  But before the show, I lost my car keys.  And we didn’t have enough money between us at that point to get a room or pay a lock smith or anything, and NY was not being charitable or welcoming to our little huddled mass at all that night.  Finally, it’s two a.m.  Exhausted, I make the call:  “Dad, you’re not going to believe this.”  BIG SIGH.  “Where are you?” he asks.  “I’m parked at the garage we always park at when we come to NY.”  “Stay there,” he said and then hung up.  He called my sister, picked her up to keep him company, and at 11:00 the next morning the two of them appeared in the distance on the sidewalk, walking down from 6th avenue, my father dragging his one foot a little more than usual.  Our trio shouted out and hugged him, as if seeing Dad was the happiest sight of our lives.  Perhaps it was—just an hour earlier we had seen a cabbie robbed of his cab right in front of us.  Dad handed us the keys.  With no more fanfare, we got in our cars and drove home.

I love retelling this tale, as I have done countlessly over the past 20 years, not because of the extreme details of rescue, but because of how impressed I am that my father had rescued me, yet again, without lecturing me, without berating me.  He knew I didn’t want lose my keys.  He knew that I would have exhausted every option before I called him.  But he also knew that when I called him, I knew he would get me home.  That when I put my problem in his hands, I would find peace, the relief of rescue.  That’s what I trusted. 

Still, part of what my father reaped, and is still reaping, is the legacy of his example that I try to continue, like on those nights when I am deep in a dream, and cold, little hand yanks me out of a pleasant slumber to change wet sheets.  And I do it, without too much grumbling, and with a little understanding, and kiss to the forehead.

A few days later after lost-keys-in-Gotham saga, I found my keys actually in my car, dangling from the base of the turn signal.  The steering column was very wide and hid it well.   I figured I dropped them near my car and some nice New Yorker opened my car and slid them down on my turn signal lever so I would find them.  About a year later, I told my dad what had happened.  All he did was drop his head and sigh.