By Alvin Peters
As a child, when my father walked beside me, I sometimes wondered what other people saw. Some people gave furtive glances, their eyes showing pity before they looked away. Others with scorn and ridicule. “Why would a man,” they were probably thinking, “burden a child in such a way?”
When we got to the school gate, I would let go of his shirt and my father would look at me. His eyes brown, bright and hopeful. He would then walk around me in a complete circle. Finally, he would kneel, let his forehead touch mine and say, “Remember, I love you this much.”
Some children at school would gawk at him, amazed that such a being could exist. I agreed with them. Sometimes I thought it was amazing that such a father was real. There is no one else like him in the world.
Others would sometimes tease me but their numbers eventually dwindled in futility. On the playground, they called him a freak, a worm and a monster and me, the son of a freak, a worm and a monster.
The teachers tried to help, but the wilds of the school yard are different from the civilisation of the classroom. I’ll never forget the day a girl came up to me and said, “How can your daddy love you if he can’t even hug you?”
One time after such an onslaught, in the respite of afternoon prayers, I asked God if He would grow a pair of arms on my dad. Then people could see him as he played duelling ninjas with me or as he threw a ball or played with a game controller or as he took me on adventures. Then they would finally see what I have always seen; they would know what I have always known.
After prayer, the teacher led us in a discussion about St Joseph. She told us how St Joseph took care of Mary and Jesus. He protected them from the wrath of King Herod, cared for them while in Egypt and worked as a carpenter to provide for them. What those children said lunchtime flooded my mind.
He is not like other fathers I have seen. Not even like St Joseph. Could my father be anything like this man? Then the teacher showed us a picture of St Joseph with baby Jesus in his arms. She said, “I wonder what St Joseph was thinking as he looked at the Saviour. I wonder what Jesus was saying in Joseph’s heart while He looked back at him.”
As I looked at St Joseph’s eyes, they reminded me of my father’s. The eyes that looked at me then kissed my forehead when I had a fever. The times he looked under my bed and sat next to me to make sure the monsters stayed away.
The time he helped me with my homework that I “forgot” about. After his reprimand on such an occasion, he looked at me with those same eyes and said, “Always remember,” as he walked around me, “I love you this much.”
I thought about that painting for many days. I tried to forget the shame I sometimes had for him. The looks of pity from the adults and misunderstood scorn from the children.
One night as I closed my eyes, I told St Joseph not to ask God for my father to grow a pair of arms but for me to have the eyes to look at my father the same way as Jesus looked at him. “Because,” I whispered, “He is a good man just like you.”
“What is wrong, son? Why aren’t you eating?” my father asked rousing me from my daydream. I glanced around as people surreptitiously glanced at us as he used one of his feet to put the fork with cake into his mouth.
Let them look. If they only knew how courageous he is and what a foolish child at times I was. “We could’ve celebrated at home you know,” he said when he noticed the looks from the other diners.
I got up and looked at him. Those brown eyes of his that never wavered. Then just as he did with me for so many years, I walked around the table. I knelt and straightened his tie. Finally, I touched my forehead with his and said, “And how the world will know that I love you this much.”
For the fathers and grandfathers.