Wait Until Your Father Gets Home

“Wait until your father gets home.”

My mother had said those words many times before, and they never led to anything good. When my father got home, I was going to get a stern lecture. Or worse. And on this occasion, I expected worse. Much worse.

I had defied my mother before. But I had never grabbed the paddle out of her hand as she attempted to spank me. As I was doing so, I thought that I might have been signing a death sentence for myself. But I couldn’t stop myself.

I was only ten years old, but I was already taller than my mother. Granted, she was a petite 5’ tall and I was towering for my age at 5’3”. And I outweighed her by at least twenty pounds. Despite my size, I was not a bully, and I thought getting my butt swatted for a transgression was a bully tactic. If I had done wrong, I preferred to talk about it. I didn’t define it in such terms at the time, but I preferred reason over force.

I knew I was a brat at times. I knew wrong from right, and I almost always immediately felt bad when I did wrong. But I was only ten years old, and my ability to understand and express myself was limited. I looked to my parents to help me understand.

On this day, I had lied to my mother about where I had been after school. She knew I was lying. When she confronted me, I attempted to cover my lie with another lie. As happens with lies, it spiraled out of control, and soon I was spouting such nonsense that I couldn’t even believe what was coming out of my mouth. But it kept coming out, as if my vocal chords were being controlled by some demon intent on seeing me die an early death.

In exasperation, my mother decided to spank me. Even at that moment, I couldn’t blame her. I wasn’t being rational, or anything approaching rational. But my father had taught me to stand up to bullies, and when someone threatened me with violence, I wasn’t going to take it without a fight. So I took the paddle out of my mother’s hand. And then I prepared to die.

The conversation at dinner that night was subdued. I was hoping that my mother might forget what had happened an hour earlier. But I suspected that she was plotting how she would ensure my early demise at the hands of my father. And I believed that my father was trying to figure out how he’d hide the body.

After dinner, I helped my mother with the dishes. I offered to get a beer for my father. If I was going to die, I wasn’t going to do so without groveling for mercy.

“Sit down,” my father said after my third offer to get him a beer. I detected a tone I’d never heard before, but the throbbing in my head might have had something to do with that.

My mother sat in the recliner next to my father, and they both looked at me silently. It was at that moment that I first understood the phrase, “If looks could kill.”

“I am sorry,” my mother said. “You lied to me, and I was angry. But hitting you isn’t the solution.”

That was the moment that I began to understand what it meant to be honest. My mother had every right to be angry with me. I had lied to her. While she couldn’t control what I did, she did have control over her actions. She was taking responsibility for her actions, and not using my transgression as an excuse for what she said or did.

We talked late into the night, and my father eventually let me get him a beer. My parents admitted that it was difficult to raise a child. I admitted that it was difficult being a child. We laughed and we cried. But we did it together. And I didn’t die that night.

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