My little brother is a bit of a quandary. He is without-a-doubt one of the most compassionate and tender-hearted guys I know (especially now that he has a cute baby niece) yet his appearance might intimidate many. He likes to wear those long chains, funky chunky armbands, and his hair is continually morphing from one odd color or style to the next. Punk. Scary. Weirdo. He’s probably been called labels these many times and judged by these labels many times. I know there have been times when I’ve responded to him poorly because of the way he looked. There have been times when I’ve been irritated with him because he listens to music I don’t like and watches movies that scare me sleepless. But this weekend I got to watch him delight in making my daughter smile. I saw him, time and again, come and take her from my arms and play with her on the floor. He took more photos of her than any of the rest of us and worked to keep her entertained nearly every time she fussed. This weekend I got to see into his heart, past the funky hair, weird clothes, and odd apparel…and it got me thinking. I realized that EVERY time I talk to him on the phone he tells me he loves me, EVERY time I see him he gives me a hug, he often makes an effort to talk to me about what interests him, and he finds ways to spend time with me (this winter he invited me, just me, to go sledding with him). That doesn’t sound like a punk to me. That sounds like a description of an awesome, caring guy who really loves me.
My dad has been a great and gentle teacher in my life. I’ve learned so much about growing things, animals, relating to people, and laughing from him. He recently celebrated a birthday that bumped him into the can-now-order-from-the-senior-menu category. This weekend the whole family traveled out to a nearby canyon for a picnic and some rock climbing. As my sisters and I lay on a warm rock next to the river we watched my husband, our older brother, our younger brother, and then my dad’s cousin (whose also in that previously mentioned category) scramble up the rock wall. As Dad’s cousin came back down he turned to my dad with a exhilarating grin on his face and said, “Your turn!” My sisters and I stared wide-eyed at each other. You see, my dad has never rock climbed before. He’s often accompanied us, cheered us on, taken pictures, and bragged on us afterwards, but he’s never done it himself.
“Do you really think Dad will do it?” One of us asked the others.
“Naw, he might get hurt”, another answered.
Not five minutes later, to my surprised delight, I was helping him strap on the ackward climbing harness! My dad, my “old” dad, climbed to the top of that rock wall and came back down! He didn’t quit and he didn’t get hurt!
These two descriptions may seem separate from one another but I think that they both have taught me something about how I see people. My brother looks like a hard, mean, scary punk but he really is a gentle and loving guy. My dad has always been my teacher and belonged in an older group, a group that didn’t participate in scary activities like rock climbing. He showed me that, when invited, he was willing to become the student, learn something new and join us in our activities. It made me so proud to watch my dad, scared as he was, climb that wall, following my brothers instructions. Yeah, that’s my daddy! It also made me sad because I wondered how many opportunities I’ve missed with my dad because I just didn’t invite him to join me…based on some stupid presupposed idea about him. What do you see when you look at the girl in the store with the pink hair? What do you see when you angrily pass the old lady whose driving 30 on the highway? What do you see when you drive past the skate park? Do you see an opportunity to love and be loved? I haven’t, but I think this weekend taught me to try and see past the presuppositions and give chances. These experiences have been worth it and I don’t want to miss another chance.