The Butterfly Effect. It's a terrible movie and a worse sequel but a fascinating concept. Here's the story of how a sleepyhead, 5 toes, and a fever can change they way you view the world and your importance in it.
Last week was a rough one for my wife, Sally. She had to put down a beloved cat, Sugar Ray. she invited some friends and their kids over for pizza, partially in an effort to soothe the soul and just entertain. A household filled with women and young girls is becoming a more common occurrence than ever before. So we filled bellies full of pizza and the little girls played and screamed and ran around. The ladies talked and laughed and commiserated on loss. I must say that the loss of any beloved member of the family, human or animal, brings me back to my Dad. But more on that later...
For my part in the evening, I brought home the pizzas and tried to stay out of the way. It would be rude to hole up someplace and watch TV, but I have plenty of viewing interests that might also interest the kids. I put on one of Miyazaki's animated masterpieces called My Neighbor Totoro and the kids played on. One little girl wasn't feeling well. She had a fever and we'd given her some Tylenol around dinner time. So with that, she was the first to sit and watch. As the night wore on, my daughter Jubilee started to check-in with me as she got more and more tired. She'd come sit for a minute or two before barreling off into the wilds with the other girls. The shyest and youngest of them all, the one least likely to let go of her Mom for more than a minute, found her way next to me on the couch.
Next to me, is not entirely correct. The sleepyheaded little one melted into my arms on one side as Jubilee melted into the other. Now the four of us, we watched the movie together. Soon the eldest daughter and her friend found themselves engaged by the movie and parked themselves on the couch to watch. With the last burst of nervous energy, a tickle fight erupted between the 5 girls in myself resulting in screams at dangerous decibel levels, and hiccups caused from laughter.
As we sat on the couch in front of the TV gasping for breath, the two littlest ones sank back into their flanking positions. Surprisingly the eldest daughter, the rule follower and caretaker of her sisters when they're not at home, she snuck her foot under my hand. I thought nothing of it, we were all mashed together on the couch, but whenever I would readjust my sitting position her toes would wiggle themselves under my hand.
As the fever abated a bit, the middlest girl scooted in wanting to sit closer and get tickled more and be a part of this nest of people in the corner of the super-sectional. And for a brief moment there was a dog-pile of kids, one mine and 4 not, all sitting very close and watching Japanese animation. And for just a second everyone in this corner of the world was content.
At the time I thought not much of it, but those butterfly wings flapped that night. It occurred to me that these little girls, for whatever reasons they had and I doubt they understood it themselves, these girls needed me. I didn't do anything, I thought. I did nothing heroic or premeditated. I had opened my home and was simply available. When they needed a warm place to sit or a warm body close to sit by, I was a body.
And that is what started me thinking. Thinking about a lot of things. Thinking about how maybe sometimes love isn't an activity or something you have to work so hard at. Sometimes love is just about being there. Sometimes affection isn't a hug or a kiss or a present, it is sharing the warmth of your arms or the couch-cushion. Sometime feeling safe is every bit as important as a full belly or a warm bed.
It made me think that all these immeasurable qualities and skills are often the understated and undervalued domain of Daddy. A man who offers his strength without imposing it. A man who offers unconditional love, not because you're his kid but because you're a kid in his house. A man who offers safety without locking you in and them out. These are not the qualifications a Father, maybe not even a Dad, but to a little kid this man is Daddy.
And it wasn't possible to recognize it until I became a Daddy - or at least I think I am. But it also makes the little boy in me miss his own.
That night as they left for there own homes, I got hugs and squeezes from them. Not the kind you tell your kids to give uncles and aunties at Thanksgiving. The kind of hugs that last a little too long for polite company. The kind of hugs that let you know that you are appreciated. The kind of hugs that wake you up in the middle of the night in the middle of the week wondering... How come everybody doesn't want to feel that way?