Our father made sure all us kids received gold stars for Sunday School attendance when we were young. Every Sunday, we would sit in the first row during the mass group sing;
Jesus loves me , this I know,
For the Bible tells me so ...
After the third grade level, about the time most kids' curiosity begins to broaden, I usually just hummed along during group-sings.
"Because I said so!"
I cowered back into the pillows of my bed. My father was never much for talking, but when he did ... I think he graduated from the Teddy Roosevelt school of child rearing so my rear spent a good portion of the third grade on the receiving end of his response to my generally juvenile disregard of his soft-spoken ways. I have often wondered if he ever broke any blood vessels in his right hand.
"But ... "
"No buts!" he thundered, squelching my feeble attempt at an explanation. The bedtime ritual had not gone well that night; my mother had said, "Just wait till your father gets home." And so I had, in mortal fear. He glowered down at me as I broke into an anticipatory cold sweat. I urgently wanted to plead my case, to beg his forgiveness in the matter, but surmised it was far too late for that.
"But dad, please!" is how it could have gone, or something like that but, somehow, I have never been able to call him that. It just isn't him. Somehow dad has always lacked in some way although, as I recall, all my buddies referred to their fathers as 'Dad.' It makes me wonder how I ever got the car for dates in high school.
Many of my friends in school thought my father was the devil himself. Nothing could be further from the truth. He simply knew one way to live -- the right way -- and was rather adamant about it. He accepted no other doctrines and was the perfect example of a perfect example. I never saw or heard of him drinking, smoking, swearing, womanizing, or anything else that might be considered even remotely hypocritical. It's hard not to admire him -- even those same school chums say so, now -- yet he could be a very difficult person to love, at times, depending on how one chooses to define such an overused and under-considered word. I got better at it over the years, although back then I think I loved him simply because one is supposed to love one's father. At the time, this curious influence served to take the why right out of my ten-year-old mouth. I just did it. Period.
... Little ones to him belong,
They are weak but he is strong.
"You know better than to disobey your mother!" he continued, his volume no longer earth-shattering yet his voice, somehow, equally impressive. I nodded fearfully as to appease him but dared not speak. He was still very angry; this was obvious. But I remember detecting a certain hurt quality in his eyes -- like he was so intensely angry he would cry. "Evidently you didn't believe me last time," he emoted, wringing his hands until I thought they would bleed. "What do I have to do to convince you?"
I knew what was coming; I could feel it already. It was true; I had been forewarned. My father was and is a fair man. His final judgments have always been determined as the result of careful consideration of the facts. He laid down the laws in our house and if we chose to disregard them, we paid. And during payment he never said, "This hurts me more than it does you." As I recall, I'm not sure I would have been too willing to believe him if he had. If he said anything at all it was more like, "I'm doing this for your own good," which could be very confusing when it came time to sit down later. I never noticed the pained expressions on his face during these times because I was usually too busy bawling my eyes out; my mother told me about them years later. But evidently he "died a little death" every time I screwed up. Not having any children of my own I've yet to fully appreciate my mother's revelation.
... (refrain) Yes, Jesus loves me...
I know for a fact that my father did not break any blood vessels in his hand that night. I also know that I had theretofore never been so strangely surprised in my young life. Something very different, almost mystical happened. As I lay there, whimpering in anticipation, awaiting what I had come to know as my just desserts, my father, still wringing his hands, his eyes welling with tears, leaned over me and, gently placing his right hand on my shoulder, asked, "Why, son?"
A myriad of emotions streamed down my cheeks. "I don't know how, Father," I spasmed, unable to look at him. "I tried to tell mom but ... I don't know how. I'm sorry."
He took a clean, neatly pressed white handkerchief from his back pants pocket and blotted my eyes. I'm not at all sure if I ever really learned how to pray the way he wanted me to but it certainly wasn't due to the lack of effort on his part that night.