I’m seven years old, sitting at our family’s dining room table. My sister was there, too. I don’t remember what we had done, but what I do remember is how that day went down in the annals of our family history forever.
“You have to be like the palm tree,” my dad started, “the mighty palm tree withstands all kinds of obstacles.”
My sister and I exchanged confused looks. One more look at our father confirmed our horrified suspicion – Dad was just getting started. Our dad was an almost legendary lecturer. Not in any university’s lecture hall, mind you, but in the lecture hall of our home, wherever he felt it was required. In the hallway. In the garage. This time, it was in the dining room. It didn’t matter where we were or who was around, if we screwed up, we knew a good lecture was coming. Today, though, dad was really into it.
A few minutes into this latest lecture, he had his arms up over his head, fingers spread out to mimic the leaves of a palm tree rustling in the wind, and he was actually swaying back and forth. Or “to and fro” as he referred to it.
“When the hurricane winds blow, does the palm tree break? No it does not! It stands there and weathers the winds that threaten to break it. When the torrential rains of the monsoon come and try to drown everything, does the palm tree fall? No it doesn’t! It stands there and weathers the storm.
“When life gets tough or things get difficult, will you be like the mighty palm tree or will you break to the pressure and fall? Me… I’m like the mighty palm tree. When I was growing up with three siblings and divorced parents, things were tough, but I dealt with it and persevered. When I was in the Navy, stuck on a ship for months at a time, with nothing but water all around me, we all had to be like the palm tree.
“When I get home from working a long day at work and I have to deal with your kids’ attitudes and the trouble you made, I have a choice to make – Do I act like the palm tree, swaying to and fro, to and fro, or do I break?”
By this point, my sister interrupted, “Dad, can you please just spank me or ground me to my room already?”
Our dad, to his credit, really picked the best times to truly see what the best punishment would be for either one of us. He looked down at her, arms and fingers still splayed out at the sides of his head, and said, “No. You need to be like the palm tree and go with the flow. And wait until I’m finished.”
As he kept talking, I looked around our stuck-in-the-1970s dining room, with its dark wood paneling along the wall in front of me. The wall behind my dad, who was standing to my right at the head of the table, was covered floor-to-ceiling with a tacky orange, white and brown wallpaper depicting gaudy baskets and cornucopias of food. Along the wall to my left was the strange half-wall which was topped with painted shutters that actually opened and closed, separating the dining room from the kitchen.
I realized then that I had chosen the wrong seat at the table for this. At least my sister could look out through the sliding glass door behind me into the backyard to watch our dog run around and pull the wooden lattice work off of the covered patio. My dad’s swaying to and fro snapped my attention back to the hell we were trapped in.
“…sometimes you just gotta be like our friend, the mighty palm tree. Understand?” my dad asked.
At some point, our mother had crept out of the room while our dad wasn’t looking. All allegiances were waved off once a lecture was in progress.
Photo Credit: Brian Weed