“You are mean, Daddy.”

The four words I never wanted to hear come out of my child’s mouth flowed out so easily the other day when I was bringing her home from church.

Sure, I was probably a bit naïve to think she would NEVER see me as anything but the coolest man in the world (I think that image actually ended around Day 2 of her life), but I guess I held out hope it would come during some teenage rebellion stage when I told her she couldn’t have the new flying car by Audi.

So, when the phrase was so effortlessly and thoughtlessly uttered by my precious little 4 year old pre-teen, I was sent into defense mode.

I pulled out debate tactics I would have used with my teenage students when I felt the need to prove a point quickly and get them to stop talking and think.

“I don’t think you understand what you are saying.” (Or, for those Princess Bride fans…”I do not think this word means what you think it means.”)

To which she gives me a puzzled look and waits for the rest of my response.

“Is it mean when Daddy plays tea party with you, takes you on bike rides, makes you pancake art or sandwiches in the shape of a butterfly, buys you toys, reads you books, paints with you, pillow fights with you, breaks the wall to entertain you with a horribly awkward attempt at a handstand? Is that how Daddy is mean?”

At this point she is starting to forget she even said the words and is being distracted by the birds flying outside.

So, I attempt to wrap it up and give a brief explanation of what she really meant to say.

“I think you want to say that Daddy is not being fair by not doing what you want right now.”

“You see, mean is more of a characterization of Daddy as a person where fair is more of a belief from your perspective that Daddy is not doing what you want right now and is therefore acting unfair toward you.”

(Yep, I am sure about 90% of those words went straight over her head.)

Satisfied with my argument, I check the rearview mirror to bask in the warmth of my daughter’s understanding smile and nod of agreement.

Instead, she is looking out the window and has now pointed to something else outside the car and said a word I cannot quite understand, which throws me into linguistic survival mode as I pull from every context clue, suffix, prefix and root word possible to figure out what has captured her attention away from my, apparently, not-so-incredible speech.

And life goes on.

Minutes later she will tell me, “I love you, Daddy” and all in my Father-Daughter world will be sunshine and roses again.

And then, I think about God.

How patient, loving and consistently faithful He is with me.

How I must seem like the most emotion-driven child at times as I get upset with him for something innocuous and am praising and thanking Him in the next breath for not getting caught at that red light.

Corinthians 13 is such a perfect description of God who is the fulfillment of love to us and I wish I was more aware and grateful of the “long suffering” He has shown me throughout my own spiritual childhood.

It is an awareness I will try to hold onto for as long as possible as I don’t want to hear that dreaded four-word phrase again from my daughter in order to remind me of how I am probably acting toward God.

Not fun.

Necessary at times, I am sure…but, not fun.

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