51: Dad’s Secret Ritual

51: Dad’s Secret Ritual

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

Dad’s Secret Ritual

Underneath prayer disappears adversity.

~Pepper Giardino

When I was a child, my family had a nighttime routine. After dinner, my five siblings and I would play outside and then gather around the TV with our mom and dad to watch our favorite shows. But later, as we all brushed our teeth and got ready for bed, my dad would mysteriously disappear. After fifteen minutes, he would emerge in a more peaceful state and quietly walk from room to room to say goodnight and tuck his little ones in. For many years I wondered where he went during those stolen moments, which seemed to get him through even the toughest of times.

My father lived a very stressful life, and twenty years after leaving home I am still in awe of him. Not only did he have a wife and six children to support working as a mailman, he also built our family’s house with his two hands and a 1950s tractor. We had outgrown our trailer home so my dad took it upon himself to build us a new one. This undertaking nearly killed him, and also led to my discovery of his secret.

I remember that Saturday afternoon well. My dad had spent the entire day shoveling cement for the foundation of the house, while my siblings and I played kick the can in the backyard. Suddenly, my mom came running. “Kids!” she hollered as she peered around the trees looking for us. We weren’t sure if we should stay hidden or emerge to find out what she was yelling about.

But her next words made me come running. “Kids, your father is hurt! I need to take him to the hospital!” We all stood around her, wide-eyed, as she held my six-foot-tall dad at the waist.

“Stay here,” she continued as she looked over her shoulder to my teenage brother and sister. “Dave and Debbie, you’re in charge,” she ordered.

We all watched as my mom helped my dad into the front seat of our family van. He was bent over at the waist and struggling to take off his tool belt. He tried to hide his eyes, but I could see he was holding back tears as he sat doubled over, grimacing in pain and clutching his chest. “I’ll be okay, kids,” he whispered. “Just hang in. . . .” His voice trailed off as my mom reclined his chair, then waved a quick goodbye. We all stood dumbfounded. I started to cry as my older sister tried to reassure me. “Everything will be alright,” she said. But I didn’t believe her.

Our neighbor, Sophie, came over an hour later to check on us and bring dinner. But we were too upset to eat. Time seemed to stand still as we paced around our small living room, waiting for the phone to ring.

Finally, the call came. My sister answered. “Oh, thank goodness,” she said after listening to the voice on the other end. She gave my mother assurances that we would be fine until morning and then gave us all the news. “Dad has a collapsed lung, probably from all the lifting and shoveling he’s been doing.”

I remember being so thankful that my dad didn’t have the “heart attack” that my brother and sister had been whispering about. When he returned home the next day, he bravely told us that he was “good as new.” Though he had to rest, he still read us stories at night, made us his famous chocolate milkshakes before bedtime, and when we were getting ready for bed, resumed his mysterious nighttime ritual that gave him such peace of mind.

His near-death experience made me acutely aware of how difficult his life was, and increasingly curious about his secret ritual. Finally, when I was twelve years old, I gathered the courage to find out his secret for myself. I tiptoed down the hall, opened his door just a crack, and peered in.

What I saw was my dad kneeling down at his bedside, his head bowed, whispering. He was praying. I got down on the floor and strained to hear him. With his hands clenched together, he listed each of his children’s names and made one specific request for each of us — all six of us. For me, he prayed that I would have the strength to stand up to the peer pressures of junior high, and that I would always do the right thing.

He ended with a prayer thanking God for all of his blessings, particularly my mom and her incredible strength. To this day, I’ve never told my dad that I heard him pray that night, and that I had discovered the secret ritual that gave him peace as he struggled to raise his family.

Until now.

~Victoria LaFave

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