“Honor your father and your mother…” (Exodus 20:12).
When I think about my childhood, many of my memories involve my parents doing things that drove me crazy.
Come on, Mom, a bath EVERY WEEK just seemed excessive to me as an eight-year-old boy. And what was your obsession with me keeping my room clean and making my bed? And I really hated it when you used your spit to constantly clean off my face and behind my ears. Gross! And making me get my own switch from the front yard bush when you were religiously following Proverbs 13:24 (“Spare the rod…”)? That was just plain cruel and unusual! And what about your fixation on school and grades? Like I would ever actually need all that reading, writing and arithmetic? And you could never get enough hugs and kisses (Don’t tell anyone but I kind of liked that, even though I acted like I didn’t).
Dad, I don’t even know where to start with you. I can remember lying in bed awake listening to you loudly using a spoon to scrape your bowl clean. I always knew you had a big stash of ice cream in a secret freezer somewhere that was off limits to me. And that incessant playing of the piano! I mean, there’s only so much Sinatra a young boy can take! Then there was the infamous pouring of rubbing alcohol on all exterior wounds, big and small. Owwwwwwww!!! I’m pretty sure (okay, I’m certain) you meant well, but it got to where I couldn’t tell you when I skinned my knee! Like Mom, you always wanted to hug and kiss me. When I was about 12, you reluctantly agreed to stop doing it in front of my friends and resorted to handshakes instead. Thank you! (Many years later, my best friend—Clayboy, as you called him, and who would ultimately deliver a beautiful eulogy for you—confessed to me that all the neighborhood boys were jealous their fathers were not publicly affectionate like you. Who knew?).
But the two of you together were just downright embarrassing. You always made all six of your children say grace at the dinner table, no matter who was visiting. Counting you, that was eight separate prayers, every evening! Then we had to go through the same ritual when we went to bed, saying “Now I lay me down…” while one or both of you stood watch. Mom, I remember you playfully telling Dad, “Thanks, Hanks!” whenever he did something nice. Who talks like that, anyway? And I can still hear the sound of your lips smacking when you kissed each other goodbye every morning. How could something so small be so loud?
I am one of the lucky ones whose parents lived long enough for me to mature to where I appreciated, and even missed, the very things that used to grate on my nerves. I am so thankful I was eventually able to express my gratitude to both of them, not for being perfect parents, but for being my parents. After all, they didn’t have to be, they chose to be. Most of us have that special person or persons who at some point accepted responsibility for us and whom we consider our parent figures, even if not our biological ones. These folks are our parents. If you are still able, please take occasional opportunities to thank them.
I lost both of my parents seven months apart about four years ago. Just like that, no more incessant piano, no more encouraging me to excel, no more hugs and kisses. No more anything except memories. Oh, how I miss them.
“What I wouldn’t give for only one night…” (Bruce Hornsby, from the song Every Little Kiss).