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On Becoming a Father: The Sledding Incident

           It was a day beginning like any other day.  The alarm, ringing at 5:00 A.M, was greeted by my slowly awakening hand. It hit the snooze bar several times before turning the shower knob all the way to hot. A few minutes of lag time were required to get the warm water pumping to the upstairs bathroom.  This allowed time for a final, quick prayer under the still toasty sheets before facing the day. 

            As I started back toward the bed, to await my nourishing, morning shower, I noticed an unusual light.  It was far too bright outside to only be 5:30 on a January morning.  Something was amiss.  Giddily, I strolled over to the window, vague memories of a winter storm warning on last night's news, bubbling to the surface of my consciousness.  I had written it off because of the meteorologist's claim that the area was too dry for any serious accumulation before the rush hour madness.

              METEOROLOGIST: A six-syllable word for someone who gets paid a significant sum of money, I'm sure, to tell us what any average Joe with a window can.  Oh, sure they have sophisticated technology to warn viewers of their impending doom twelve hours ahead of time.  But all that it really seems to do is send citizens into system wide panic.  Think the run on savings banks during the depression was bad?  Well it is nothing compared to the mad dash for milk, bread and toilet paper that occurs every time someone mentions snow.  Grocery store shelves lie empty, a mere echo of the bounty that once filled them because a meteorologist predicted snow.  One can almost hear the wind moaning through the store as a few lonely pages of newspaper rustle by, as if to emphasize the image of desolation. 

            What is the story on meteorologists anyway? How did this person become such an integral part of our culture?  Never has one person been so revered and despised at the same time.  Oh, the poor meteorologist.  Everyone's hero, when right, the biggest fool around, when wrong.  God bless him, he was wrong today.  Not much accumulation before the rush hour, huh?  5:30 A.M. and the usually dark, morning sky seemed a little brighter because of the light reflecting from the snow.

            I grabbed my bathrobe and confidently hurried downstairs to check the listing of school closings. There it was, my school system: CLOSED!  Last night, the meteorologist made it sound as if my having to teach today was a mathematical certainty.  God, however, in his infinite mercy and grace, fulfilled the prayers of every student, teacher and administrator for miles around.  He delivered a snow day.  He had offered humanity a Sabbath and I, for one, took it.

            This is not to say that I did not work.  On the contrary, I eventually braved the elements, completing such tasks as cleaning off our cars, shoveling our driveway and sweeping our steps.  Eventually, I even went into school, excited about the opportunity to get some work done without the maddening pace of middle school youth.  Compared to normal, this was indeed a day of rest.

            The halls, normally surging with the force of raging, adolescent hormones, were subdued.  Lest anyone think teachers and school administrators have a piece of cake job, I can assure you, it is not so.  Snow days mean workdays, only at a pace that is bearable.  The chance for peace and quiet is what drives us in, ever hopeful that the stack of papers on our desks can somehow be diminished.  Who cares that the snow is still piling up outside.  We are comforted by the knowledge that some brief respite from the tyranny of paper has been achieved.

            The administrators at my school are usually a jolly lot but today they seemed to float.  A joyous hum was in the air and I swear that I heard the principal whistling.  I had been working in my cold room for a while when the Assistant-Principal announced, over the loudspeaker, that bean soup, which she had made personally, was available in the main office.  After sitting in a room with no heat for a few hours, how could I refuse?  Upon entering the office I saw a banquet consisting of the afore mentioned soup, bread and butter, and corn chips.  Topping the menu off was a small package of fudge, from which I gladly indulged.  Life was good.

            Snow is a miraculous thing.  It seems to bring the child out in everyone.  Thoughts of future snows with children of my own slowly overtook my mind.  I realized that I wanted to go home and be with my pregnant wife.  She is now six weeks away from delivering our first child and the excitement is palpable.  As I walked out of the school building, I noticed that my car appeared as if I had never moved it.  How much worse the cars of my fellow workers, who had arrived before me and would be leaving long after me?  Students and teachers may have had the day off but administrators were required to be there.  My feelings of Christian good will came forth and, as my car warmed itself, I quickly cleaned the snow and ice from their cars.  I lifted the windshield wipers, leaving them up so they would not freeze to the windshield.  I cleaned their roofs, windows, and hoods; front bumpers, head lights, and tail lights.  Satisfied that my colleagues would be able to make a swift departure, I hopped into my car and headed for home, the satisfaction of an anonymous, good deed warming my entire body.

            Upon my arrival at home, I noticed Melinda, one of the neighborhood children, trying to sled down the front steps of her town house.  I have always enjoyed children and make serious efforts to establish friendships with them.  Children can teach us so much.  While we adults worry about mortgages, the stock market, careers etc. children remind us of the things we take for granted.  Watching an infant struggle to his feet reminds me of how effortlessly I stand and walk. 

            I inquired as to the quality of her experience.  "Not very good," she replied in a melancholy tone that was in direct conflict with the joy a child should experience on a day such as this.  Her father had to go to work, she informed me, and her mother was inside, taking care of her six-month old sister.  When I asked why she didn't try one of the hills around the neighborhood, she told me that she was not allowed to go by herself.  Then came the biggy: the question I was not expecting.  "Would you take me?"

            My heart sank as I thought of spending more time out in the cold.  I had just spent an hour and a half cleaning cars.  I was tired and wanted to get warm.  Besides, I had a wife and soon-to-be child waiting inside for me. I did not want to hurt Melinda’s feelings, especially since she has proven to be my greatest yard work helper. Many of the neighbors have children and we all joke that Melinda, being the oldest kid around, will have a monopoly on baby-sitting.  I could see the future and it looked bleak:

            "Melinda, this is Mr. McCarthy.  I was wondering if you could baby-sit for us tonight?"

            "Well, I'm not sure," she will respond.  "Remember the time you didn't take me sledding?"

I did not want to blow any future chances, but I had obligations to attend to, or so I told myself.  Then it occurred to me that this was a divinely orchestrated experience. God arranged this situation to give me a little taste of fatherhood.  I will have days when I am exhausted from work and the only thing I will want to do is sit and relax.  It is a certainty that at this precise moment, my child will greet me and ask me for something: to go fly kites, to help with homework, to build a model.  Something pressing will undoubtedly arise that needs my immediate attention.  What will I do?  Will I be the kind of father that is there for his children?  Melinda was giving me a terrific opportunity to practice.

            "Yes, I will take you, but let me go inside and see how my wife is doing and warm up a little bit.  I'll meet you out here in about twenty minutes, O.K”

            Melinda agreed and went inside to ask her mother's permission to go.  Meanwhile, I checked on my wife, to see how she was doing, and to make sure she did not mind.  As my wife and I stood in the kitchen, talking together, I noticed Melinda walking up our driveway and sitting on our front steps.  Hadn't I told her that I would come out in twenty minutes?  I remembered myself at that age and how slowly time traveled.  To her, twenty minutes had already passed.  In her mind, she was exercising patience by waiting for me.  I kissed my wife, waved to Melinda, swiftly put on my boots and headed out into the "great white north".

            Melinda and I tried desperately to find a suitable sledding site.  Unfortunately, the brand new neighborhood we lived in had only recently been flat forestland and the developers did not give much consideration to sledding when building the community.  There was one small hill built more as a design element than to have any function.  It proved to be a bust.  The next hill we found lie at the edge of the community where a tree-line buffer was supposed to be.  The hill itself was great but the discovery of a barbed wire fence at the bottom eliminated its candidacy. After several vain attempts to sled the minuscule hills in our neighborhood, Melinda and I had what could only be referred to as an epiphany.  There was ongoing construction just down the road and they had a mound of dirt piled so high that to us it seemed like Everest.  Off we went, me pulling her on the sled, tired and cold but welcoming the exercise. 

            As we approached our goal, I began to notice things about this "mountain" that I had never seen before.  Construction crews created it as they cleared the way for roads, businesses, homes, etc.  As a result there were rocks, big rocks, poking out all over the place.  Pieces of wood, ranging in size from lumber to sticks, made their presence known by standing straight in the air, as if at attention.  I gasped as the scene began to filter my desire for the ultimate sledding experience.  "Houston, we have a problem," I thought to myself.  Melinda and I looked at each other and began weighing our options.  We eventually decided that since we had come all this way, it would be disappointing not to at least attempt a run.

            We began ascending the construction mound and another problem began to emerge:  the "hill" was not quite solid.  We had ascended a quarter of the mound when my foot sank into mud, halfway up my boot.  That was as far as this guy was going.  We turned and began to plot the safest course down.  We placed the sled into position and Melinda mounted the front of the sled.  I gave us a running push and quickly got onto the back.  We careened down the hill like Calvin and Hobbes, landing in the slush at the bottom.  We both agreed that, although fun, our sledding experience was over.

            As we headed back to our townhouses, Melinda asked if I would pull her on the sled.  My heart sank. Hadn't I done enough?  Wasn't I completely exhausted from being kind?  Did I really need to pull her all the way home as well?  "Yes," I said grudgingly.  I figured, why not?  I could use the exercise.  This is what fatherhood is going to be about: sacrifice.  Setting aside my needs and desires for the sake of my children.  The cold air filled my lungs and gave me a small bit of energy.  As I pulled Melinda, I thanked God for the opportunity to experience life through children and looked forward to having one of my own.  The joyful laugh of the child on the sled behind me made the whole experience worthwhile.


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