When I was a young boy, my father seemed bigger than life, like most fathers seem to young sons. I looked at him in the same way that I imagine my son Jeremiah looked at me at that age—the Superhero—the towering giant who can fix anything, do anything, and make anything seem better than it is. We see what we want to see, until we don’t.
Life took him away from me very early in my life, so we never got to have the kinds of deep conversations that my son and I have had. We never shared a beer together. We never ran a half marathon together, never traveled the world together, never went camping, never attended baseball or football games together. My memories of him are very few, but I have one that will never fade.
I was about seven years old, and we were returning home from somewhere. We were laughing when he pulled into the driveway. He was good at making me laugh. As we got out, and I looked at him over the roof of the car, all I could see was his head. My superhero dad seemed so small, with only a head and no body. As I chuckled, I slammed the car door shut with my thumb still in the door. Screaming at the top of my lungs, crying for him to fix it, I stood frozen, unable to move. What he did next remains forever etched in my mind.
Calmly and gently, but firmly, my father said, “JOSEPH — OPEN THE DOOR.”
At that point in my seven-year life, I had fallen, bumped, smashed, crashed, and broken quite a few objects and body parts. On those occasions when I’d hurt myself, I’d had seen the alarm in his eyes, sometimes panic. This time it was different. His eyes were still, quiet,
and wise, as if he knew that he was passing down an important lesson, from a father to his son.
Life guarantees that things will go wrong and we’ll get hurt. Sometimes in those moments, we freeze or panic. The lesson that my father taught me is, when those things happen, get calm, breathe—and open the door. My dad reminded me that I have the knowledge, the ability, and the strength to handle the situation. So, I did, I opened the door and I was free. Afterward, he walked me in the house, put my thumb on ice, and did what a good dad does, gave me a bowl of ice cream. Then, we went to the doctor. The nail eventually fell off and to this day, a small section on my left thumb nail doesn’t grow. That’s just fine with me. When I feel stuck, it’s my reminder to get calm, breathe, and open the door.