My father has worked in education and media my entire life. His job when I was a young child was centered in downtown Chicago, Illinois, and it occasionally entailed random late nights and regular business trips.
If just these first two sentences have led your mind down the path of heart-wrenching “I never saw my dad” stories, I am not sorry to tell you, nothing could be further from the truth.
My father ran every decision through a filter of family time. Where we lived, how long he’d be gone on trips, how late he stayed at work—and how frequently…all of it ran through this filter.
One of the little ways he would show this was by kissing us goodnight every night he was home, even if it was late and we were sleeping. We went to bed almost every night, with the few exceptions of his out-of-state trips or overnights a couple times a year, knowing this: that our daddy was coming home, that he loved us, and that we would get our goodnight kisses, whether we could remember them or not. He promised us that he would kiss us goodnight every night he could, and he did.
I remember one night, when I was young—no older than fourteen, I’m sure—my dad had to be out late, and I couldn’t go with him. Often, he would find ways to let me go with him to the after-hours assignments he took on, but this night, I was to stay home. When he finally returned, I woke from my slumber to hear his steps on the stairs down the hall, and I cozied down in my comforter, prepared to pretend I was still asleep when he cracked my door to whisper goodnight. But the steps passed my brothers’ room without entering, and slowly, steadily, they approached my door…and walked by. Whether it was the first time he did it or not, whether he had made a habit of skipping our goodnight kisses or not, the realization that tonight, the only night I had been awake, he forgot about his promise sunk into my chest and I turned over and faced my window.
I was usually more interested in being older than I was, in general, so I probably used my willingness to give up goodnight kisses as “childish” to help me move beyond it enough to sleep, but the memory has stuck with me all these years.
My father did not owe us goodnight kisses. He was an adult, our parent, but we didn’t have a contract. There is no law requiring parents to kiss their children goodnight…no moral code derived from any religious obligation to kiss me goodnight. I knew this and was capable of comprehending the possible dynamics: maybe it was a hard night, maybe he was just so tired he could think only of bed, or maybe he knew he had an early morning and so he just needed as much sleep as he could eke out of his few hours. I was not unsympathetic; I understood.
But he had made a promise, and he, that once, that one time, he fell through.
I think I asked him about it. Regardless of how it came up the next morning, I remember having the conversation. I recall him apologizing profusely, reassuring me that it merely slipped his mind because he was so tired, but that he was sorry.
I was thinking about this story recently in light of other situations I’ve encountered throughout my (admittedly still rather short) life.
I have been in a situation where someone promised me something that they technically didn’t owe me. This sounds like an oxymoron since a promise essentially becomes a debt that they owe, but it isn’t necessarily that way. In this case, the individual did not provide any formality or title to confirm and stabilize the situation, so when the promise fell through, the only thing that was broken was just that: a verbal agreement.
But it wasn’t the only thing. When you break a contract, you forfeit something on your end when you let the other party down. When you break a promise, you break trust, and the only thing you forfeit that should mean anything to you is the self-same trust.
There was this song my mom would sing to us when my dad was gone when we went to bed:
“Peace is the wind stops blowing,
Peace is when the sun is showing,
Knowing that my daddy’s coming home,
God gives me peace.”
My dad always came home. In fact, at the moment, I live at school, an hour away from my parents, but right now, you better believe that my dad is home. My dad is the best man to walk the earth, and he is the nearest thing to unfaltering you will find anywhere. In the grand scheme of things, the one skipped gesture back when I was barely a teenager means nothing about his standing as a father.
His apology after he realized what happened…that’s what says everything about his standing as a father. His apology, for the specific omission of one of the most insignificant actions in the world, was sincere and heartfelt. The promise meant something to me, he didn’t come through, I hurt, he hurt for me, and he rectified the situation to the best of his ability.
And, let me be clear, my dad’s best…is the best.
Relationships with people invite trust. Trust invites hurt. I will never regret hurting as the result of trusting someone I cared about, because it comes with the territory. The beautiful, terrifying, loving, twisting, turning, territory. You will never love someone who does not let you down.
But healing from the hurt is a process. It starts, not with an apology, but with co-hurting: when the offending party feels the pain of the party they have hurt. Co-hurting spurs an apology. A good apology ends by asking, “what can I do to restore peace?”
Sometimes, at least for a while, the answer is “nothing.” It’s okay to not trust them again for a while. If they broke a promise that was deeply important to you, even a lack of official recognition does not negate your pain.
But, as trite as it may sound, the good news—even if you don’t have the joy of knowing that your daddy is coming home—the good news is that “God gives (you) peace.” In the ache, in the anger, in the acceptance, in the all of it, God is the peace. That’s one relationship that will never be built on promises He can’t keep. If He says something, he’s coming through. There are no uncertainties with the fortitude of God’s goodness.
He doesn’t come home, he is Home, and He’s a Daddy who always kisses us goodnight.