Standing In The Fire
by Craig Scott Brooke-Weiss, Director FatherLove
Levi, my four-and-a-half-year-old boy, was screaming the other day, screaming
at me. I was napping when the phone rang. He didn't begin the call screaming.
His bright, cheerful, squeaky voice first asked me, "Daddy, are you coming
to me today?" As far as he knew, I was supposed to be with him, and I
With a sinking feeling, I knew he had been told I was coming to see him. I wasn't. I was spending the upcoming weekend with him, still two days away. During a call to his mother to confirm my weekend visit, she and I had quarrelled. During our disagreement, she told me, with anger and resentment, that I could also see him during the week. But I have experienced painful situations before, where she has changed her mind at the last moment. It was two and a half hours of driving, two ferries, gas and a day wasted if she changed her mind again and wouldn't let me see him. No, I thought, I could wait till Friday, for our regular weekend visit together.
Telephone fighting with Levi's Mom has worn me down. I was also frying angry that she told him I was coming, when it was unclear if I was or not. I fumed, thinking that I had jumped once too often for my own good. It hurt to continually hit a wall that she set up and I slammed into.
Sleepy. Angry. Guilty. My logic pussing out of me, I try to explain, "Levi, I am not coming today, but I am going to see you ..." He rejects my words and drops the phone. His world is all scream; I cannot understand what he is saying. Verbal splinters are coming out of his mouth; nothing is clear except his pain and our mutual frustration. His voice is torture, a screaming without breath. His Mom tells him to use words. "Tell your Dad how you feel." He picks the phone up and blasts me with a primal noise that stabs me hard in my heart. I have no idea what he is saying.
And I understand every sound.
After repeatedly trying to reestablish our connection, any connection to my little boy, who is now my raging son, I yell, "Levi, what are you saying? I don't understand you. Levi, I cannot understand you when you scream like that. Please stop screaming and speak to me." Then, through my fog, his words chill. I finally get it. And when I decipher what he's screaming, the hair on my arms stands up.
"I want to eat you up. I want to eat you up, Daddy."
When I am angry, when I have lost all control and wished someone to know they have wronged me in an unforgivable way, I become the ugliness I wish upon that person. I become that twisted face and venomous voice. I know what it feels like to want to obliterate another person. Before I understood Levi's words, I knew his anger. And it was directed at me. There had been too many days of Daddy disappointments.
What struck me like a blow was his choice of words. "I want to eat you up, Daddy." If ever a Daddy was sent a cold love message, this was it. I repeated what I heard him saying to me and then I said, "I hear you."
Levi yelled, "I want you here and I want you here right now, Daddy." I said, "I am on my way, Boo," (short for his nickname, Boolu). I was through bargaining, making excuses not to see him.
His Mom got on the phone. She said that if I came immediately, I could have a half hour with him. I told her, "I am leaving now."
When I arrived it was 7pm. Because of traffic, it took me almost two hours to get there. His Mom said, "You are supposed to bring him back now. Where are you going?"
"To Dairy Queen for an ice cream cone."
We left. I bought him a cone. After maybe five minutes he said, "Daddy, Mommy will be mad if I am not home soon."
"Yes, Levi, but first eat more of your ice cream. We still have some time."
We drove around looking for a spot to park the 'Boolu mobile' along the water. The ice cream cone was finished. Our time was almost up. It was a dark night. I parked. Levi said, "Let's go throw rocks in the water."
I said, "No, Boolu, we don't have time to do that tonight."
I pushed the buttons on my convertible. The top came down. The stars came in. Levi climbed into my lap. We sang a song. He 'drove' the parked car. Then I drove him home. We made the most of every second of our half hour together.
Sometimes you just know. There are messages that challenge us to the core and are too powerful to disregard. Sounds reaching us at that depth can be a welcome. When you hear and feel that strange something, it's extraordinary. Even if you don't understand, you know. You know that something important is going on and you are a witness. I am a witness to the wisdom of childhood, my four-and-a-half-year-old son teaching me to pay attention to one of the most important things in life; our connection to one another.
Children need their Daddy. My boy needs me. My gift is that I also need my boy.