“There’s this story that my family likes to tell about me.” Sonny Johl retells a simple tale with an enduring lesson.
When I was really young, we lived in a house that had a fireplace with a metal hearth. One winter, we had a fire burning in the fireplace. I was maybe 2-years-old, and my Dad was trying to teach me how to be safe around the fireplace.
“Don’t touch it! It’s hot!” he was saying while lightly tapping the hot metal. He was making it look like it was burning his hand to show me not to do it.
So I did what any self-respecting toddler would do. I tried to copy him. And I did it by laying my hands down on the hot metal.
And each sob drove a pang of guilt into my Dad’s heart.
My parents live in the middle of an orchard, and back then, one of our neighbors had a dairy. (They sold their land since, and a farmer bought the acreage and planted trees.) One of my favorite things to do as a kid was to jump in my Dad’s white Chevy S10 pickup and ride to the back of the orchard and watch the cows in their pasture with him from our shared driveway.
That night, with my burned hands, I was inconsolable. My Dad could think of nothing else to comfort me but to take me to the pickup and drive out back to see the cows.
As the story goes, at 10:00 at night we sat in the pickup and stared out at the pasture. The grass was lit by moonlight. The air was crisp. But there were no cows. They had all gone to their barns for the night.
We sat there and watched the empty pasture until I fell asleep.
I don’t think it was the drive that brought me comfort. It wasn’t from the pasture. Or the cows.
What I drew comfort from was this little ritual with my Dad. From spending this time with him. To share space and time with a man who has worked day and night his whole life to provide for his family. With a man that made his own American Dream. This man with unwavering integrity that I will always look up to and always strive to be. From knowing that he chose to share this moment with me.
That night, as I sat curled up in my Dad’s lap in the S10, he had pointed out into the silvery pasture and asked me, as he always would on our drives to the dairy, “Can you see the cows?”
I stopped crying.
And I quietly answered.