How do we learn to manage fear? As small children, it is such a fundamental part of our learning about the world, but as we begin to mature and fear less of what we see, we learn from our parents and other sources about how much there is to fear that we can't see.
When I worked at Games Workshop, I thought their model of leadership values was, as they say, spot on: honesty, courage, and humility. To this day, I use this simple rubric to assess the leadership of others, the quality of people entering my life, and my own behaviour. When I berate myself for coming up short, more often than not, it is for a perceived lack of courage. Why did I do that? Why didn't I speak up when someone else did that? Why did opt for the easy choice instead of the right one?
As a parent, your biggest fears reside in your children, whether it is not doing enough for them, or doing too much. You try to teach them to listen to their fear, and to be informed by it, but not to let it control them. And you worry about how you model bravery to them.
Thursday nights are my chauffeur nights. After dinner, Audrey takes Glory to Irish dance, then heads off to her own choir practice. I take Fenya to her choir downtown, then head over to St. Albert to get Glory, and at one time, took her downtown to pick up Fenya before we all returned home. She is big enough now that she likes staying home for the short bit of time it takes me to fetch her sister, and it lets her get to bed earlier to boot.
Two weeks ago though, I had left her downstairs working on a school project, and was on my way to pick up Fenya, when the speaker in the car chimed with an incoming call. I saw the call originated from home and pushed the button on the steering wheel. "Hello?"
A ragged breath on the other end, rife with uncertainty. "Daddy?" Glory whispered.
My blood ran cold, but I tried not to let it colour my voice, "It's me baby, what's the matter?"
"Daddy, I'm scared...I thought I heard someone upstairs," she said timidly.
I had locked the door when I left, and knew it was (almost) completely unlikely someone was in the house. I also knew, to my shame, that part of the reason for her trepidation was that she was also scared of my reaction. I made my voice as reassuring as possible.
"I don't think that's very likely honey, but do you want me to come home?"
"Should I come home Glory? Would you feel better if I did?"
Another whisper, almost a sob of relief, "Yes, please."
Running a couple of route options through my head, I elected to loop around rather than reverse my course; fewer lights and left turns. "Okay kid, I am on my way, I will be home in six minutes; do you know why six minutes?"
A short pause, "No, how come?" Still whispering.
"Because 'nothing takes five minutes', right?" (One of our favourite lines from Blackhawk Down.)
Another pause, then, "Okay."
I accelerated up 127th street, and said, "I'm on my way back, but I have to hang up on you for a minute, okay? I have to call Fenya and tell her I will be late picking her up. Do you want me to call you back? Would you feel better if I did?"
A quieter whisper now, barely audible: "Yes, please."
"Okay, I will call you back as soon as I can. I love you," and hung up.
Reaching Fenya's voice mail, I explained what was happening, and that if she could get a ride home to please do so, but I would be back to pick her up as soon as I could. After taking a moment to assure her that no, I didn't actually believe any one was really in the house, almost for certain, I hung up and called the house.
As the phone rang, there was the briefest of moments where the tactless, tactical side of my brain observed that if, in fact, there was an intruder in the house, Glory answering the phone in mid-ring was a sure tip-off that they were not alone, but before I could refute the absurdity of that insight, she answered. Still the uneven breath as she greeted me, with an even quieter whisper this time: "Hello?"
"Hi honey, it's Daddy; where are you?"
"I'm in the basement, behind the couch...close to your desk. Daddy, I'm scared..."
(The analytical side of my brain wryly observed that the C-sharp I was hearing was unquestionably the sound of a heartstring being plucked, and the associated pang was almost certainly not sudden-onset angina.) "I know, sweetie, I'm coming as fast as I can." It's true; if the photo-radar contractor was in his usual spot on 142nd Avenue, this would be an expensive trip. "That's a smart place to be if someone is there, but I don't think there is. What's Nitti doing?"
"That's right, and if there was someone at the door, he'd be barking lots, right?"
"But I am coming anyways, because I know you're scared." Thank God most of the ice was gone from the corners, this one was usually a skating rink. "I'm going like a police car, can you hear the engine over the phone?"
"Yeah..." (Was that a smile I could hear?)
"I will be there in two minutes, all right?"
"Can you come in and say 'Glory, I'm home' really loudly?" still whispering, but less shaky now.
"Whatever you want kid. I am at the end of the block now and can see the house. I am going to hang up and I will be inside as fast as I can, okay?"
"I love you," I said again, and hung up.
Seconds later I was in front of our house, and out of the car, racing up the steps with the keys in my hand. The door was locked, as I was (almost) certain it would be, but I still opened the door with what I have heard referred to as 'violence of action'. I snapped on the light switches by the door and shouted, "Glory, I'm home!" at the top of my lungs, which produces a considerable volume.
I quickly turned left into the master bedroom, snapped on the light, and went to my bedside to retrieve the oak police-style club I keep there. Before I could find it, I heard Glory in the kitchen and called her name so she knew where I was.
I met her at the door and she launched herself into my midsection as her arms wrapped around me, and we both felt quite a bit better for the experience.
"Are you all right?" I asked her. She didn't look up or loosen her grip at all, but nodded emphatically. "C'mon," I said, "Let's go get your sister."
By the time she got her coat and boots on, Audrey had arrived, and by the time I was a block away, Fenya called me to say she had gotten a ride with another family. When I returned home and explained to Audrey what had happened, she chided me a little bit for the alacrity of my response.
I bristled up a little bit. "It's all fun and games until you hear your child whisper, 'Daddy, I'm scared,'" I said, and truth be told, the widening of my wife's eyes and the involuntary protrusion of her lower lip was both validating and gratifying. "And even though I was (almost) certain everything was all right, I will gladly trade making Fenya wait a little while in a safe place for a chance to sort out the daughter that needed me as fast as I could.
"Maybe next time I will go through all the logical reasons why there can't be a stranger in the house, or monsters in the closet, or whatever, but this time, the first time? The most important thing I could teach her was that if she needs me, I will be there."
Audrey nodded. "And when we tell the girls that if they are at a party or with someone who has been drinking and they call us to come get them..."
"Sure," I relented, "A little credibility could go a long way if or when that ever happens."
Since I intend to be a parent for the rest of my life, it is important for me to make my peace with fear, and to teach my daughters to do the same. It can't be ignored, because sometimes fear is our first and best warning that something has gone awry, but if we can deal with it in temperance and respect, then we are probably ahead of the game.
Fear of the unknown, fear of the other, fear of change, fear of loss; how much of the negative interactions of our world are driven by fear? How much peace do we create when we help others deal with their fear? I think the most universal wisdom in the Bible is that aphorism attributed to Solomon, "This too shall pass," but I am starting to think that the angelic greeting of "Fear not!" may be of even greater comfort.
Being able to do that for Glory certainly was a blessing for me.