How I forgave my son



My son walked me face first into a telephone pole.
I have thought about it and concluded that it was my fault.
He didn’t think I would get hurt.
Neither did I.

*In brief*
I walked, face-first, fast and hard, into a telephone pole.
Even though I might have blamed my boy who led me to do such a thing, I quickly concluded that it was my fault, not his.
So, I forgave him.
*Some details*

My boy is not yet a bar mitzvah – 13 years old. And my daughter, born two years, three months, and 22 days later, is younger and less responsible. 

I have internalized my people’s tradition which maintains that a parent is responsible for a child’s actions until the child reaches the age of 13. (Some maintain the age is 12 for girls. I’m not certain about that.)
And, so, I am to blame for letting them guide me as I walked face first into the telephone pole on the way to get pizza with our friends the Boyd-Flynns.
*Even more details*
On the walk south on 41st avenue towards Sandy Boulevard, in front of the library, I put Emmett's head under my left hand and Annie's under my right. I closed my eyes and followed one foot in front of the other.
The incident wouldn't happen until half-way down the block – after the novelty had dissipated for them. But, for these steps, it was fun for all of us.

I remember the utter disorientation of walking at a regular clip without any visual cues.

I remember thinking how living things adapt – even after losing one’s sight, one adapts.

I remember thinking about Krishnamurti – and hearing him laugh in my mind – as I thought that this altered state of awareness might help me unpack his koan learning to think without words.

Then I was on the ground. In an empty parking lot 50 feet away from the street.

I remember thinking that I must be somewhat ok if I was 50 feet from the curb. I must have gotten there somehow, right?

What I remember:

My memory is in soft focus, from the perspective of a camera watching the incident 12 feet above Jane and me. She is by my side.

I am crouching, holding my head.

I look dazed.

I see a man from the furniture store hand Jane an ice pack and towel.

The severity of the situation dawns on me. Strangers getting involved, seeing myself from above, and my lack of memory.

These are not good signs.

Jane looks transfixed at my forehead.

My hand is over my eyes.

She applies cold hand sanitizer to the left side of my forehead. It stings, although there is no real pain to speak of. I wonder about that.

I hear her ask me if I can see.

I want to say, "I can see."

But words just aren't coming out.

I hear her ask again. From the tone of her voice, I can tell two things: (1) she is trying not to sound alarmed, and (2) she has probably asked a few times before this time that I finally heard her.

I see myself make eye contact with her.

I look scared. Like my dad did in the hospital when coming out of anesthesia. Afraid. Terrified.

I'm still watching this all from above. Confused, but making sense of it. Not certain why I can't speak.

Then my voice comes. It isn’t well modulated. It is sharp, as though I am mad at her for not hearing me answer or not thinking of the fact that I’m making eye contact with her as a clear answer to her question. Snottily, the words come out: "Of course I can see."

She applies a band-aid – I don’t know where it came from. Maybe our friend Betsy, with whom we were walking, had it. She affixes it above my eyebrow.

Then the pain hit.

It wasn’t my head that hurt.

Not yet. And, it fact, my head never hurts too much.

It was my heart.
My heart caved in.

Horrible pain.

I collapse to the ground – will-less.

I see Emmett standing atop a mound of soil near a tree 25 feet away. Annie is nowhere around. She, Bob, and Molly probably walked ahead.

Knowing the kids won’t hear me, I weep to Jane, who is holding me: "How could they have led me into a pole? How could they have done that? How could they?"

*Our interaction*
Jane walked with Emmett towards lunch ahead of me and Betsy.
I was walking slowly.
I don’t remember if my dear neighbor and I conversed much as we walked.

Jane texted that when I got to Hotlips – the pizzeria – I would find Emmett outside and I should talk to him.

He was there on the corner, gaze down, pacing around.

I approached and started the conversation with, "Em, you know the first rule of the Mayer family."

My tone was open. His eyes glanced quickly at mine, as though he expected my gaze could crush him.

I continued with the words he knows, the first rule of the Mayer family: "Everyone makes mistakes; everyone gets to learn."

I was holding the ice pack on my head as I comforted him, "It's ok, Boo… it's on me. I shouldn't have trusted you with that. Lesson learned."

He frantically spoke while pacing, “I didn’t think you would get hurt.”

I knew that. I told him I did.

He just thought it would be funny.

I get that. I told him I understood.

It wasn’t malice. It was poor judgment.

I understood.

I've made poor judgments – like allowing a 4th and 6th grader to lead me blindfolded.

I acknowledged to Emmett that I knew that he simply made a mistake. And, that I forgave him.

Emmett’s horrible feeling looked to have slightly diminished as we entered the pizzeria.

I reiterated, leaning down to his eye level, telling him it was ok. We ordered our slices and I gave him a dollar for the pinball machine.

I think it would have been easier on him if I had yelled.

*Forgiveness. Not shame.*
It's amazingly easy to forgive someone who looks like they are about to throw-up from their guilt. (Learning to heart-fully forgive the unrepentant is a complex but worthwhile spiritual maneuver, IMHO. But, we aren’t talking about that situation right now.)

I remember my BFF Larry telling me about his childhood and how he lit the sofa, and subsequently some of the house, on fire. His great idea was that the loose coins in the couch cushions – the metal currency the family often sought when money was tight – would not get burned, and he could give that money, with pride at his ingenuity, to his cash-strapped mother and father.

I remember him telling me the story as a light, humorous family tale. It was a story about love and forgiveness. It could have easily been a story of shame and humiliation: “What were you thinking?!”

Larry is the best man I know. And if that has some to do with his parents’ ability to forgive and not shame, then I want to live like that, too.

I do my part to raise my children without shame. I strive to be quick to forgive and slow to anger. I believe that my children will be instrumental in bringing about a world of peace.

*Growing up*
Emmett and I re-examined and re-discussed the incident back at the house later that night. He curled into my lap on the orange chair in the living room, like a bullmastiff that thinks it’s a terrier.
I told him that as long as he has not yet had a ceremony within our family graduating him from dependence to the proto-adulthood, I was willing to very quickly forgive him for the errors of his judgment. I explained that after that time, of course I would forgive him, but it would not be the same – that I would let him stew in the guilt for longer.

I did my best to explain to him that after the time his mother and I proclaimed him to be “of age,” he would be beyond the 50% mark of responsibility for the unintended consequences of his actions.

He looked at me, hurt.

"That's not fair, Dad."

“The fact that you don’t like it lets me know you are growing up, my boy."
*His coming of age ceremony*

Emmett will be 13 this November.

Jane and I planned a customized, non-traditional bar-mitzvah ceremony to celebrate his coming of age. I have years of practice with having done these with other families. My plans were epic.

However, he sat me down in the months following the telephone pole incident. It was just the two of us at dinner. Jane and Annie were out.

He told me that he didn’t want to do anything large, in public. He told me he wants to go out to the beach with just mom and me, and our friend Bill, the Jesuit priest. And he wants to just be able to weep at the fact that he is growing up.

I know I will weep tears of sublime joy when that happens.

Consequently, you won’t be getting an invitation or seeing pictures about the event. We are going to do the ceremony his way. It’s his ceremony after all. And, I love him exactly as he is – telephone poles and all.

With love,
Rabbi Brian







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