I was four years old and fleeing in happy terror from my two big brothers and the tickling I was sure to receive upon their catching me. The fun and games, however, came to a sudden stop when I vaulted right into the coffee table, unsettling a glass lamp and sending it crashing to the ground. The thing had been my mother's favourite while she was still alive, and it held a place of honour in our house. And now it lay in shattered pieces against the hardwood floor. My brothers had yet to catch up with me and, afraid of the consequences of my actions, I quickly hid inside the closet.
From within my cramped hideout, smelling of winter boots and Daddy's leather coat, I tried not to cry as I listened to my brothers come upon the mess. "Mark, go get Dad," I heard Adam, my eldest brother, say worriedly. He was only 12, and Mark just a year younger, but both had become more responsible than most boys their age when mom had died in an accident only a year after my birth.
While Mark was gone, Adam called for me. "Zach? Zach, where'd you go?" I could hear him looking behind the couch and overstuffed chair before he thought to check the closet. The single strip of light shining in from the bottom of the door was blotted out as he stepped in front of my hiding place. I tried to hold my breath and shrink back into the coats around me, wishing this closet led into a different world, like the one in the stories Mark told me. But it didn't, so when the door opened with a groan of protest, I squeezed my eyes shut, going on the old if-I-can't-see-you-you-can't-see-me theory. It's funny how that one never works.
"He's in here, Dad," my big brother called over his shoulder. Turning back to me, he asked, "Zach, are you okay?" I nodded, but tears spilled down my face. My father, having just arrived and taken in the scene, knelt down in front of me and held his arms open. I ran into them, sobbing, "I'm sorry Daddy! I'm sorry!"
"Did the glass cut you?" he asked, holding me at an arms length and looking me over. I shook my head mutely, throwing myself into his embrace once more. He held me as I cried. I don't remember what my brother's were doing –probably sneaking off in hopes to avoid a running-in-the-house-lecture– but when I looked up again, they were gone, and only my father and I remained in the room with the shattered lamp.
Wiping the remainder of my sticky tears on Daddy's shoulder, I looked over at the shards of the lamp that still lay accusingly on the ground. My father glanced at them too, and I could feel as well as hear the sigh the escaped him. Guilt diverted my gaze from the mess and I focused instead on the embroidered logo on his shirt. Nervously tracing the design with my finger, I asked, "Daddy, do you still love me?" I don't think I really doubted, but I needed to know for certain, just to be sure.
Instead of the angry affirmative I feared, he just hugged me tighter, saying, "I will always love you, Zach. Always. Don't you ever forget that." His voice was low and quiet, but it was strong, as if the words he was saying to me were unbreakable. Everlasting.
Once again reassured of my place in his heart, I told him I loved him too. Wriggling out of his arms, I looked again at the remains of the lamp, this time unafraid. I was loved, and even a tragedy such as this couldn't change that.
For some reason, that memory stayed with me as I grew up. Many times I could hear my father's words echoing back in my head, like the time I tried to run away when I was seven (I got to the end of the driveway). Or I got a bad grade in Math class (apparently there is a way to study Algebra). Or after breaking up with my first 'girlfriend' (it had lasted a week). During all those rough times, I felt the promise of his love coming true.
Almost as often, though, his assurance of love would come back to me at random moments, and I would just wonder. I'd wonder why. Why was he so sure of his affection to me? How could he know he'd feel that way forever?
Now it comes back to me again. Now, as I hold my newborn son, so tiny and fragile in my arms, that memory resurfaces again. So clearly, so clearly, I can hear my father's words. I'll always love you. Always. And I remember wondering why.
My son opens his eyes and stares up at me. His gaze is so innocent, so trusting. In that moment –that perfect moment in my son's eyes- all doubt is gone. I know how my father could be so sure, because I am feeling the same thing right now. My son, my son, how could I ever do anything but love him?
He's so perfect, so tiny and beautiful. In his eyes, I can understand that unbreakable love. And I don't wonder why anymore.