What a Father Does

“What was that?”

I stare at the shards of china at my feet. From the other room my father calls, “Mary, are you alright?”

I have broken my mother’s bowl. She is away in New Orleans, and even though it is only for six months, it feels like forever. “Mary?”

This bowl is part of a set. There are four of them: the biggest is a yellow bowl, the next size this orange one at my feet. A green one sits inside this bowl, then a blue one. Now there are only three.

“Mary? Was that you?” Now I hear footsteps coming down the hall. My father, running to the rescue. His knees are not good, but he still runs to me, his child. He reaches the doorway and stands, looking for a minute. I look at the bowl and start to cry. I have broken it.

“Don’t move,” he orders. “Stay right there.” Carefully he steps around the shards of broken china and leans over, plucking me out of the mess like I am nothing heavier than a rag doll. He turns and places me on a chair, telling me to hold still. He goes to fetch the broom and dustpan. When he returns he begins sweeping up the tiny bits of bowl, bending down even though he is too stiff.

I wait for him to yell, but he doesn’t. He keeps sweeping. He turns and dumps the remains in the trash bin. “There we go, it’s all clean.” He looks at me, crying on the chair, a little first grader. “Hey, now, baby, it’s alright. It’s just a bowl.” He comes over and hugs me.

“Aren’t you going to yell at me?” I sob.

“No.” He sounds surprised. “It’s just a bowl.” He pats my back, and I cry into his shoulder.

My father is just doing what fathers do. He is a retired Marine Corps officer, and he knows how to be “big, strong and hansom”, as he always taught us to chant when he walked in the room. He knows how to fight, yell, and be tough. But he knows how to be gentle and loving too. “It’s okay, baby, it’s just a bowl,” he says, and he picks me up and walks out of the room. “It’s okay, Mary baby.”

This is what a father does. This is what a mother does too. This is what a parent does.

My father does very well.





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