By the time I was ten, I was totally ashamed of my father.
All my friends called him names: Quasi-Moto, hunchback, monster, little Frankenstein, the crooked little man with the crooked little cane.
At first, it hurt when they called him those things, but soon I found myself agreeing with them. He was ugly, and I knew it!
My father was born with something called parastremmatic dwarfism. The disease made him stop growing when he was about thirteen and caused his body to twist and turn into a grotesque shape.
It wasn’t too bad when he was a kid. But soon after my birth, things started getting worse.
Another genetic disorder took over, and his left foot started turning out, almost backward. His right arm curled in and up, and his index finger almost touched his elbow.
His walk became slow, awkward, and deliberate. I hated to be seen with him. Everyone stared. They seemed to pity me.
By the time I was seventeen, I was blaming all my problems on my father.
I didn’t have the right boyfriends because of him. I didn’t drive the right car because of him. I wasn’t pretty enough because of him. I wasn’t happy because of him.
Anything that was wrong with me, or my life, was because of him.
If my father had been good-looking like Jane’s father, or successful like Paul’s father, or worldly like Terry’s father, I would be perfect! I knew that for sure.
The night of my senior prom came, and Father had to place one more nail in my coffin; he had volunteered to be one of the chaperones at the dance.
My heart just sank when he told me. I stormed into my room, slammed the door, threw myself on the bed, and cried.
“Three more weeks and I’ll be out of here!” I screamed into my pillow. “Three more weeks and I will have graduated and be moving away to college. God, please make my father go away and leave me alone. He keeps sticking his big nose in everything I do.”
I got dressed, my date picked me up, and we went to the prom.
Father followed in his car behind us.
When we arrived, Father seemed to vanish into the pink chiffon drapes that hung everywhere in the auditorium. I thanked God that He had heard my prayer. At least now I could have some fun.
Midway through the dance, Father came out from behind the drapes and decided to embarrass me again.
He started dancing with my girlfriends.
One by one, he took their hand and led them to the dance floor. He then clumsily moved them in circles as the band played.
Now I tried to vanish into the drapes.
After Jane had danced with him, she headed my way. Oh, no! I thought. She’s going to tell me he stomped on her foot or something.
“You have the greatest father.”
My face fell. “What?”
She smiled at me and grabbed my shoulders.
“Your father’s just the best. He’s funny, kind, and always finds the time to be where you need him. I wish my father was more like that.”
For one of the first times in my life, I couldn’t talk. Her words confused me.
“What do you mean?” I asked her.
Jane looked at me really strangely.
“Your father’s wonderful. I remember when we were kids, and I’d sleep over at your house. He’d always come into your room, sit down in the chair between the twin beds, and read us a book. I’m not sure my father can even read,” she sighed, and then smiled.
“Thanks for sharing him.”
Then, Jane ran off to dance with her boyfriend.
I stood there in silence.
A few minutes later, Paul came to stand beside me.
“He’s sure having a lot of fun.”
“What? Who? Who is having a lot of fun?” I asked.
“Your father. He’s having a ball.”
“Yeah. I guess.” I didn’t know what else to say.
“You know, he’s always been there,” Paul said. “I remember when you and I were on the co-ed soccer team. He tried out as the coach, but he couldn’t run up and down the field, remember? So they picked Jackie’s father instead. That didn’t stop him. He showed up for every game and did whatever needed to be done. He was the team’s biggest fan. I think he’s the reason we won so many games. Your father made it fun. I wish my father had been able to show up to at least one of our games. He was always too busy.”
Paul’s girlfriend came out of the restroom, and he went to her side, leaving me once again speechless.
My boyfriend came back with two glasses of punch and handed me one.
“Well, what do you think of my father?” I asked out of the blue.
Terry looked surprised. “I like him. I always have.”
“Then why did you call him names when we were kids?”
“I don’t know. Because he was different, and I was a dumb kid.”
“When did you stop calling him names?” I asked, trying to search my own memory.
Terry didn’t even have to think about the answer.
“The day he sat down with me outside by the pool and held me while I cried about my mother and father’s divorce. No one else would let me talk about it. I was hurting inside, and he could feel it. He cried with me that day. I thought you knew.”
I looked at Terry and a tear rolled down my cheek as long-forgotten memories started cascading into my consciousness.
When I was three, my puppy got killed by another dog, and my father was there to hold me and teach me what happens when the pets we love die.
When I was five, my father took me to my first day of school. I was so scared. So was he. We cried and held each other that first day.
The next day he became a teacher’s helper.
When I was eight, I just couldn’t do math. Father sat down with me night after night, and we worked on math problems until math became easy for me.
When I was ten, my father bought me a brand-new bike. When it was stolen, because I didn’t lock it up like I was taught to do, my father gave me jobs to do around the house so I could make enough money to purchase another one.
When I was thirteen and my first love broke up with me, my father was there to yell at, to blame, and to cry with.
Now, when I was seventeen, he put up with me no matter how nasty I became or how high my hormones raged.
As I looked at my father dancing with my friends, a big toothy grin on his face, I suddenly saw him differently.
The handicaps weren’t his, they were mine! I had spent a great deal of my life hating the man who loved me. I had hated the exterior that I saw, and I had ignored the interior that contained his God-given heart.
I suddenly felt very ashamed. I asked Terry to take me home, too overcome with feelings to remain.
On graduation day, at my Christian high school, my name was called, and I stood behind the podium as the valedictorian of my class.
As I looked out over the people in the audience, my gaze rested on my father in the front row sitting next to my mother. He sat there, in his one and only specially-made suit, holding my mother’s hand and smiling.
Overcome with emotions, my prepared speech was to become a landmark in my life.
“Today I stand here as an honor student, able to graduate with a 4.0 average. I was in the honor society for three years and was elected class president for the last two years. I even won a full scholarship to Kenton State University so that I can continue to study physics and someday become a college professor.
“What I’m here to tell you today, fellow graduates, is that I didn’t do it alone. God was there, and I had a whole bunch of friends, teachers, and counselors who helped. Up until three weeks ago, I thought they were the only ones I would be thanking this evening.
“If I had thanked just them, I would have been leaving out the most important person in my life. My father.”
I looked down at my father and at the look of complete shock that covered his face.
I stepped out from behind the podium and motioned for my father to join me onstage.
He made his way slowly, awkwardly, and deliberately. He had to drag his left foot up the stairs as he used his deformed right arm to balance his gait.
As he stood next to me at the podium, I took his small, crippled hand in mine and held it tight.
“Sometimes we only see the silhouette of the people around us,” I said. “For years I was as shallow as the silhouettes I saw. For almost my entire life, I saw my father as someone to make fun of, someone to blame, and someone to be ashamed of.
“He wasn’t perfect, like the fathers my friends had. Well, what I found out three weeks ago is that while I was envying my friends’ fathers, my friends were envying mine.
“That realization hit me hard and made me look at who I was and what I had become. I was brought up to pray to God and hold high principles for others and myself.
“What I’ve done most of my life is read between the lines of the Good Book so I could justify my hatred.”
Then, I turned to look my father in the face.
“Father, I owe you a big apology. I based my love for you on what I saw and not what I felt. I forgot to look at the one part of you that meant the most, the big, big heart God gave you.
“As I move out of high school and into life, I want you to know I could not have had a better father. You were always there for me, and no matter how badly I hurt you, you still showed up. Thank you!”
I took off my mortar board and placed it on his head, moving the tassel just so.
“You are the reason I am standing here today. You deserve this honor, not me.”
And as the audience applauded and cried with us, I felt God’s light shining down upon me as I embraced my father more warmly than I ever had before, tears unashamedly falling down both our faces.
For the first time, I saw my father through God’s eyes, and I felt honored to be seen with him.
by Candace Carteen