“If you put on some long pants, I’ll give you a ride over there.”
“I don’t want to change my pants,” he replied.
“I understand, but it’s about to get cold.”
“I don’t care.”
“OK then, you’ll just have to walk there.”
It was the end of October in Umbria, and while it can get warm during the day, the minute the sun starts to go down, the temperature drops along with it. We live about a mile from my son’s friend’s house, and he was walking over to see him. In shorts. At 5 p.m.
What began then was a long scene: First, he left, then came back 10 minutes later, wanting a lift, but without changing his pants. When neither of us budged, he set forth again, grumbling. A little later a voice recording arrived: “If you don’t give me a lift, I don’t want to see you on my weekends.”
I still didn’t budge.
10 minutes later he came back, asking if I hadn’t heard his message. He was seriously angry, and didn’t like me ignoring his threat. Luckily, by then it had turned cold, so without me even having to say a word, he went upstairs and changed into some long pants.
“There you go,” I said, “now I’ll give you a ride over there.” As we got into the car, though, I got an idea. Nothing had been resolved yet. It was time for one of those father-and-son moments you see in the movies. So I drove us to an empty park in front of a soccer field near my house and parked. “You and I need to talk,” I said, as we both got out of the car. We sat in front of each other on small, wooden benches while I tried to figure out what to say.
His arms were crossed and he wouldn’t look at me. He looked down at his black sneakers.
I told him, “You can’t just blackmail me to get what you want.” “I didn’t,” he replied. “Sure you did,” I said. “What did I say?,” he asked. “You know what it is.” “No, tell me.” So I played his voice message back to him. I said, “What do you think this is? Is this the kind of relationship that you and I are going to have… if I don’t do what you say, you’ll stop seeing me?” He sat for half a minute in silence, still with arms crossed. Suddenly, a look of terrible agony came over him.
“I made a mistake!,” he cried, then broke open. (“Ho sbagliato!”)
And there was something in the way he spoke, in this moment of honesty and fragility, that broke me open as well. Suddenly, we were both crying, and hugging, and I held him in my lap for about 5 minutes. I felt like we had both grown a foot taller. All anger and blame vanished in a second. Then and there I offered to take him to dinner, so we jumped in the car and left, best friends again.
It was like going from the worst day ever to the best day ever.
And of course, me being me, I couldn’t help but feel God’s love all around me, saying, “This is what you and I go through all the time, my son. You threaten to leave, and I wait….”
Yeah, we can keep up our stubborn refusal for 30 minutes, or 30 days, or 30 weeks, or even 30 years. But eventually, we are going to break.
And all the punishment, all the pain we imagined we would have to suffer for being wrong and for threatening and for staying away are just that… imagined. After all that show, after all those years, all we have to say, to turn the whole thing around, are these simple words:
“I’m sorry, I made a mistake.”
(Thank you for such a beautiful lesson, son. May we have many more together, you and I!)