I heard the door open and the quick foosteps across the creaky old 100 year old floorboards downstairs. And I knew. On the verge of bedtime, a baby in arms and his sister knowingly expecting. Her dad. His voice cracked when he bounded up the stairs to tell me, in front of them, of course, that he already knew the result.
He had studied for nearly a year for this exam, stringing together hours of study every night when the rest of our street was completely, utterly dark. Sometimes coming to carry the boy when milk couldn’t soothe his aching tummy anymore. Anymore.
In an instant, he was deflated, riding off the airplane trip back home into a sunken heap of Daddy. Only hints of it were actually visible beneath his welcomes and bedtime stories. Everyone went to sleep uncomfortably that night. This just wasn’t like him, I thought. I can’t remember this ever actually happening before. Failure.
The next day, when sun and wind gave me space to think and the ruminations of the night before had been properly digested, the sour taste of it all had left my mouth. And then it felt like such an important moment – a giant place of awkwardness and pain but inside so full of light. If I could even feel my own self growing through it, I can only imagine what he was going through. And I realized it was true, this growing-through-failure business. Because he had to love himself in the morning. Because he still had to hold his head up.
And now when the bitter experiences of defeat dot our daughter’s summer, and fall, and winter – as they inevitably do – perhaps she is old enough now, perceptive enough now, to remember when her father came home from his trip with hurt and shame inside. And found a way around it. Found a wonderful way through it.