My dad told me to be home before dark and I assured him that I would be before taking off on my bike for a friend’s house. I wasn’t lying. I intended to be home. I went to see my friend and we rode our bikes around the neighborhood and then she invited me inside and I lost track of time. It’s funny how the details of this day are lost to me. I don’t remember the friend, the house or what we did. I just remember opening the door to leave and seeing that it was dark. I had no idea how long it had been dark or how late it was. I just knew I was in trouble. I jumped on my bike and took off for home. I remember the frantic pace at which I pedaled. I remember getting to the last hill before our house and looking up to see my father walking down the hill towards me. His face came into focus and I could see his pursed lips and furrowed brow and I was briefly tempted to turn around and bike the other way. He stopped and I biked onto the sidewalk and quickly got of the bike, dropping it where it was, and ran to him. He didn’t say a word but excuses poured out of me. We were standing under a street light. He grabbed me by the arm, turned me around and spanked me. Hard. My father was many things – an alcoholic, absent and irresponsible -but he was not cruel and he had never spanked me before that night. I screamed and cried – more from shock than pain. I went to grab my bike and he said in a voice that I didn’t recognize, “Leave it.” I turned and ran up the hill.
I went to my room and cried in the dark, angry that my father had been so harsh. I didn’t think about what he might be feeling. Kids never do. Now that I’m a parent, I do wonder what he was feeling as he walked my bike up that hill and listened as I screamed in my bedroom.
Time passed and my tears slowed and my breathing returned to normal and the door opened a crack and my dad was standing there bathed in the light from the hall. I wanted to yell at him or begin crying again with renewed passion but I was tired so I said nothing. He asked if he could come in and I said nothing. He sat on the edge of my bed and I said nothing. Then, he spoke and I will never forget what he said. He simply said, “I’m sorry.” He went on to talk about how scared he had felt when I didn't come home and how that fueled his anger but that he was disappointed in the way he had handled his feelings. The only words I really heard were “I’m sorry.” No adult had ever apologized to me. Apologies imply that you have done something wrong. My mother certainly never admitted to having done anything wrong and she had done plenty. I have never forgotten the impact his apology had on me. It made me feel that I mattered. It was the greatest gift he ever gave me.
When I thought about having children, I spent a great deal of time reviewing the performance of my parents and making a mental list of all the things I wouldn't do. There was only one thing that I knew that I would do – I knew that I would have the courage to apologize when I was wrong, to be accountable for my mistakes, to make sure my kids knew they deserved that much.
One of my Twitter friends, Dylan, just became a father and was asking for music to play for his daughter and I recommended "I'll Say I'm Sorry Now" by Shawn Colvin. I used to sing it to my children at bedtime and this story about my father is one of the reasons it fit so perfectly for me. Listen for yourself...
[audio:http://uppoppedafox.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/11-Ill-Say-Im-Sorry-Now.mp3|titles=I'll Say I'm Sorry Now - Shawn Colvin]