After the marathon, we gradually, painfully, made it over to Nathan’s apartment for showers and fun. Nathan is a good friend who recently relocated from Grand Junction to the dowtown Denver area.
We crammed into his tiny space with a portion of my family and David & Angie’s family. I lay on the floor, trying to find a position that would keep my back from cramping and gandered at Nathan’s paintings.
Just before I got in the shower, I sent Ben back out to the car to get my flip-flops – after 4 hours of running, I wasn’t interested in tying my feet into anything.
After showering, I found a comfortable chair and looked for Ben, but he wasn’t in the room. I asked about him, but didn’t get a solid response from anyone before getting distracted by the room full of people to other topics.
A few minutes later, Ben showed up, after someone went out into the hallway and realized he was waiting outside the front door of the building. Apparently, the outside door had locked behind him, and he didn’t know how to use the intercom to call us and let us know.
(By the way, as I read over this, I realize that this is further evidence that we’re not perfect parents, and I feel pretty vulnerable sharing this with you. You can’t be more offended at my irresponsibility than I am, but I hope you’ll forgive me.)
As he sat on the floor of the tiny studio and explained that he was locked out, he began to cry. Ben has a tender heart and cries easily, but not in a whiny way, usually. He cries over legitimate things – things that grown men should cry about, if only they had the nerve of a 10-year-old boy. Recently, I told him that I am glad to see this trait in him, and I hope he never loses it.
My heart broke. Renee’s heart broke. I asked Ben to come sit in my lap. I hugged him and told him I was sorry, and I asked if he had been scared. He said yes.
This is a terrible thing for a father to hear. I hate for my children to be afraid. Fear, unmitigated, eats the courage off the heart of a youngster and once it’s gone, like teflon scraped off a frying pan, it’s nearly impossible to recover without miraculous intervention.
I hugged him tighter and promised that I’d do everything I can to be sure it never happens again, and that I would never forget him or leave him, at least not for long. I’m not sure I can keep those promises, but it felt right to make them, trusting he’ll see my heart is often bigger than my ability.
When we left Nathan’s apartment, Noah and Ben rode with me on our route to the restaurant. Noah sat up front and Ben in the back, to my right.
While we drove, I slid my arm behind Noah’s seat and grabbed Ben’s hand. I held it for a long time, and as I did, I was reminded of my father’s hands.
It probably seems strange, but I can still feel my father’s hands almost 14 years after he died. I know what they feel like, and if I think about them, I can actually sense his skin against the skin of my own hands.
Papa Pratt was an old man all of my life – he was 65 when I was born – but we had a good relationship and he was always affectionate (leaving my mother to be the disciplinarian). So, we held hands frequently.
When I was young, he held my hands to protect me, or to keep me from getting away in a crowd. As we grew older, our roles switched. I held his hands to help him step up the curb, or get out of the car, or just lead him to his seat.
The skin of Papa’s hands were spotted. The age spots made dark brown patches all over his hands and forearms, and the places without spots had become translucent, almost paper-thin, with the veins visible beneath.
His skin had also lost almost all of its elasticity by the time he died at 94, so that I could pinch a fold of skin on his hand between my fingers and it would just stay there, as if I had folded a piece of paper, until I smoothed it back down.
His fingers were bigger than mine are now – not longer, but thicker – and the nails were long and thick. He used to clean his nails with his pocket knife, the same pocket knife my son, Will, uses now to carve sticks into toys.
Thoughts of Papa’s hands still comfort me. Especially when I remember his gestures as he stood at the front of a congregation singing and preaching. His hands mean a lot to me. They still quiet my fear.
As I held Ben’s hands last Sunday, with my arm stretched behind the seat, I wondered what Ben will remember of my hands when he has his own children.
I hope he’ll remember the blemishes and imperfections, along with comfort and courage, discipline and love.