For as long as I can remember, he was practicing the art of letting go. Always trying to see beyond the obvious and into the vastness of cause and effect, choice and consequence.
That is why he let me fall right onto my head.
My friends were intimidated by him. My brother and I would whisper behind his back, “No one wants to come over because he is so mean.”
There were rules to follow, chores to be done, boundary lines that couldn’t be crossed. He would never let us quit anything we started. When Springtime beckoned, the neighborhood came alive with kids playing outside, riding bikes, skating, exploring the woods behind the school. We could join them after our chores were done. We could play until it was time to go to practice, whatever that might be. Gymnastics, baseball, wrestling, dance…whatever we had committed ourselves to for a season.
“Can’t I skip it just this once?”
“No. You started it. You have to finish it.”
I was six years old when he let me fall on my head. Each day after school, my father would take me outside to spot me on back-hand-springs. He had seen me do them fearlessly on a thick mattress. He saw potential and decided to nurture it. I can still hear him say, “Sit, jump, and throw. Again. Sit, jump, and throw.” I enjoyed this time with him. Until the day he let me fall.
I was stunned when my head landed with a thud on the hard ground. More than that, I felt betrayed. I looked at him in disbelief and ran into the house. He didn’t let too much time pass before he found me to apologize and explain.
“I just needed to see how much you were depending on me.”
I thought that was about the dumbest thing I’d ever heard. It made no sense to me.
But I never landed on my head again. I never even needed a spot after that day.
I learned to be independent.
I was seven years old when I learned to ride a bike. My father would load his pick-up truck with his kids and our bikes and head to a local school track where he ran daily. I didn’t know how to ride my new bike but that didn’t stop him from letting me bring it. One day, I straddled the thing with the intention of walking it down the hill that led to the track so I could be near him. He was well into his run when my short legs betrayed me. The bottom of that hill pulled me down with such force of gravity, I could no longer keep up with the momentum. I can only imagine that he wished he could be on the other side of that track to catch me at the end of my mishap but he would have needed wings to get there in time. Instead, he watched as he ran.
I rolled down the hill, onto the track and kept rolling. The tires of my purple bicycle rolled with such speed, I couldn’t put my feet back down to make it stop. I rolled and I rolled….and because I couldn’t put my feet on the ground, I put my feet onto the pedals. I kept going. No longer was the bike taking me for a ride–I was riding the bike. My father caught up and smiled. I rode my bike beside him while he ran.
I mastered the bike that day. My father learned that letting go doesn’t always hurt. Some things soar when you let them go.
I was 18 years old the morning my father called me into his room. “I want you to know that I will love whoever you choose.” Those simple words have had a lifelong impact on me, carrying with them now more meaning than they carried 29 years ago. They spoke of choice–an act of will–coming from a man who was about to give his daughter away to a boy he must have known was wrong for her. He loved me enough to allow me my own life lessons without trying to control them. Not only was he willing to love me through them, but also the person I chose. He had been practicing the art of letting go for my lifetime. He already knew who I was.
Falling on my head one time didn’t prevent me from doing hundreds of back-hand-springs. Gravity didn’t cause me to fall off my bike–it made me fly. Marrying the wrong boy didn’t ruin my life. When all was said and done, it somehow made me better.
I’ve run into childhood friends who always ask, “How’s your dad?”
“He’s fine,” I tell them.
“I always wished I had a father like him.”
Happy birthday, Dad. I love you.