His countenance was dark. There were significant shadows under his eyes, and I was immediately sorry for my explosion the evening before. I had defied him -- and he didn't take defiance lightly.
Now, seeing him standing there looking so distraught, I knew I had stepped over the line. I was usually more careful with him. Being the third child, I knew I had already used up my allotment of attention -- a million times over -- by hounding him, following him like a lost puppy dog, and pestering him with a million questions.
But I loved him so dearly, I couldn't let it slide. I loved him not just as a father but as a mentor and spiritual guide and last night he had showed himself to be inconsistent -- almost hypocritical -- a deal breaker between any parent and child.
At the supper table the night before, he had announced to the family that the gas station had once again been broken into and robbed and that he had called the police.
I couldn't believe it. He had called the police! He had never called the police for any of the other break-ins!
I couldn't blame him. I knew a break-in meant a loss of cash, which he needed because he was supporting three daughters attending a private school. A break-in was also a personal insult because he knew all the young men in the community intimately -- and probably already knew which one of the young men had broken into his garage. I knew instinctively that by calling the police -- the professionals -- he was trying not to make it personal. He was doing justice.
Yet, this was different. We were Mennonites. So with a feeling of righteous indignation and a whole lot of youthful idealism, I wondered out loud how a "people" who claimed to be non-resistant when it came to war, who called themselves pacifists -- which in my definition was being in opposition to any war, including any outward show of conflict -- would call the police when they needed protection at home.
There was dead silence. A kind of weariness passed over his eyes -- that quickly turned into a frustrated anger. But he didn't say anything -- he just stared at me.
I stared back defiantly. These weren't just idle musings on my part. This was extremely important to me; I wanted him to be true to his words. I wanted him to be consistent in every detail of his life. I needed him to be consistent.
He started to rationalize -- by saying that he hadn't hired the police, he had just called them. That's why we had police, he said. It was their job....
Then I told him quite bluntly that I thought it was wrong "to claim to be a pacifist and then expect other people to do your dirty work."
As you can imagine, the gloves came off at that point and the discussion became very heated. We got up from the supper table and the discussion spilled over into the entire evening, with each of us aiming well positioned remarks at the other.
He went into all kinds of Mennonite history -- "selbstschutlz" and things like that. I pulled out the "Jesus dying on the cross" card. It got nasty. Well, as nasty as a good, peace-loving-Mennonite, fighting-over- pacifism discussion can get.
Ironically, in this discussion I was the one defending pacifism -- and he was arguing the right to defend oneself. And yet he was the one who was the "die-hard" Mennonite -- or so I thought. I was just playing the devil's advocate. I didn't believe in it -- I just wanted to show him that he didn't believe in it either.
At the end of the evening, I had gone to bed quite disillusioned with the hypocrisy of it all. I resolved to strike him off of my "most admired people" list.
I'm sure he went to bed tired beyond reason. Here he was working 12-hour days solving other people's car problems, dealing with a major personal and public injustice -- and then on top of all that having to listen to an upstart teenager who thought she knew it all, who was irritating at the best of times.
I felt so sorry for him.
Now, there he was -- standing at the bottom of the stairs -- waiting for me.
I was about to apologize for my attitude the previous evening, when he said, “I was wrong last night about phoning the police.”
I thought I hadn't heard correctly. Was he really admitting that he was wrong?
Then he said it in a way I could understand. “And you were right. If we as a people claim to be truly non-resistant, I should not have called the police.”
Then before I could answer him, he turned, pulled on his work cap, and headed for the door.
I ran after him.... "But dad...."
He just shrugged and waved another apology. “I guess I’m not a pure pacifist,” he said as he opened the back door and disappeared.
I ran to the window to watch him walk down the sidewalk to the gas station. Tears were rolling down my cheeks.
He truly was a hero.
And we all need heroes.
But it didn't end there -- now, as a hero, he was under my microscope. Poor man.
“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” ― William Arthur Ward