I’m teaching my four year old daughter the more complex virtues, the ones that come after the virtue of not eating Oreos off the floor and using the potty. We’re now working on humility. The other day she is staring at a picture of herself and she says to me, “I’m so cute.” She’s four, so don’t hate her for being beautiful.
I tell her, “Honey, you shouldn’t say nice things about yourself. You should let other people say nice things about you.”
She says, “We could take turns.”
“No,” I say. “You should say nice things about other people and let
them say nice things about you.”
She stares at the picture for a while longer, and then says, “I’m so…I mean, I like you, Papa.” These are complex things. They take time.
I’m on the phone a few weeks ago with a nice customer service representative who has nicely messed up my order three times, and I’m gritting my teeth and being nice. When the phone is hung up, and the room is quiet, and there is no more representative to hear me say it, I whisper, “Idiot.” And my daughter, with perfect intonation, parrots, “Idiot.” I’m a bad father. I’m a bad person. Where did I get the right to parent? These are complex things. They take time.
I’m teaching her how to draw. I wrap my hand around her hand that’s wrapped around the crayon. We make strokes and scribbles together. I think about the shaping of her hand, and how it was carved out somewhere on a genome that I half wrote.
“I’ll do it myself,” she says, and pulls away. My own genetic matter arguing with me.
The whole of my spiritual experience comes from the feeling that when I father, whether I screw it up or stay in the lines, there is a Papa somewhere else who is wrapping his hand around mine.
“I’ll do it myself,” I tell him, and someone sighs.