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Father and son

Tue, Jun 6th, 2000
Posted in

Monday, June 5, 2000

Our oldest son had an accident at work last week. He got his finger caught between two parts of a hydraulic punch. The business of the world stopped for two days as we focused on the questions of what and when and where and how long. His injury is serious enough to be life-changing for him, but not life-threatening.

When something like this happens, we get a swift kick that reminds us of the things that are really important. You donít need to be around a hospital emergency room very long to realize that your problems, serious as they may seem, are likely overshadowed by anotherís suffering just beyond a curtained enclosure. Indeed, within days, our shock and pain came into perspective when we learned of another family who had lost a son of exactly our sonís age in a recreational vehicle accident. We hug our son more often, though more carefully so we donít hurt his hand, than he has been hugged in years. We are all in pain, but we are all here. Our heartbreak over an injured body and delayed dreams will heal soon. Our hearts go out to those families whose healing has just begun and will go on for years.

I talked to one of my brothers about the accident. He marveled that something similar or worse had not happened to one of us as we grew up on the farm. It was strange to hear him tell me that. He is the youngest of the four of us brothers and the one who suffered the most injuries. He fell down a hay chute and got a concussion when he was about four years old and followed that up the next summer by falling face-first into a sharp sickle. Fortunately, the sickle was not operating at the time, but he still ended up with a bunch of stitches in his face and the scars that go with them.

When I think of the number of times we came close to getting badly hurt, it makes me shudder. I recall standing on the drawbar of a tractor that my brother was driving too fast through the field. I lost my balance and fell helplessly toward the spinning tractor tire. Just before I would have fallen into it and been dragged to the ground under it, I felt my fatherís big hand grab my jacket and pull me upright. He said nothing and neither did I. We both knew how close I had come and there was nothing that needed to be said.

Aside from my younger brotherís mishaps, there were few serious accidents on our farm. Other families in our neighborhood were not so fortunate. George seemed to be missing more fingers every time I saw him. Lavern died under a tractor that tipped over on him as he crossed a creek. Ralph met his end as he tried to repair a hay chopper. Stanley lost his life when his tractor slipped off an icy road. All of these accidents occurred in less than seconds, but changed the course of the future for the victims and their families.

My sonís accident changed our relationship. As I sat with him in the emergency room, he described the fear he felt when he realized just how badly he had been hurt. I felt in that moment a parentís worst failure; being unable to protect your child from just that fear. Tears came to my eyes. I hugged him there on the gurney and cried on his shoulder. He patted my head with his good hand and said, "Itís all right, Dad. Iím going to be all right." As he comforted me, I was suddenly cut loose in time. For a second, I was thirty years younger and he was the dad. I also got a glimpse of myself as a helpless old man leaning heavily on his adult son. In less than a minute I came back to the present, but for a brief moment, I felt that my son and I were the same age and were feeling the same thing at the same time.

It is important to be there when your kids are ready to help you grow up, but nobody ever told me that being a parent was going to hurt this much.

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