My father was from Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He was 27 when I was born, which was around the same time his parents and my aunt and uncle and cousins all moved to Tucson. Dad and Grandma – named Estella but called “Mauer” because my tongue-tied father had been unable to say “mother” as a young child – had a relationship that, though loving, could fairly be described as “fraught.” When I was five or six, my grandmother gave my father, in addition to the usual birthday card, a birthday present. This was notable because it wasn’t every year that she did so and because the relationship was, as noted, “fraught.” The gift was a ceramic roadrunner – which the roadrunner is not, as I believed until only just this morning, the state bird of Arizona. As every schoolchild but me knows, Arizona’s state bird is the Cactus Wren. I also learned only this morning that the roadrunner is a type of cuckoo, which leads me to wonder why there are no roadrunner clocks in Arizona. In any case, my delighted father gave his birthday gift a place of honor on the step table in our front room – you know, right next to Mom’s brass incense burner in the shape of a laughing Buddha.
The laughing Buddha didn’t have to share the step table for very long. Yours truly had been fascinated with the ceramic roadrunner from the get-go. Yours truly was the same child who, until he was 23 or so, received a stern “Don’t touch anything!” whenever he’d accompany his mother to the store. I assumed that the admonition didn’t apply at home, and so picked up my father’s ceramic roadrunner to look at it more closely. And, quite by accident, dropped it. Not on the carpet but on the step table, where it promptly broke into pieces. With my father and mother sitting not ten feet away at the kitchen counter. There were tears of anguish. I was exiled to my room for what seemed the longest time. When my mother released me I – still in tears – made my way to the garage and stood there in the dark, holding my stuffed dog and wondering whether my father would ever speak to me again.
A few minutes later the door from the kitchen to the garage opened. In came Dad and on went the light. Expecting the worst, I braced myself. And then my father smiled and said something I’ll hold in my heart forever: “How about we start this day over again?” And then he came over and hugged me. And that’s how I learned about forgiveness – not some garden-variety-OK-for-now forgiveness but the kind of forgiveness that, doubling as mercy, frees the soul. You know, the kind of forgiveness that God specializes in.
So, a story for Father’s Day, a day late, although it’s never too late for mercy and forgiveness. And it’s never too late to know that you are beloved. Which you most assuredly are.