I was probably 9 or 10 years old? I was already working on the farm full-time in the summer, and my cousins and I were making boxes (this process involves this big, stapler machine–at least for the ones that hold the heavier produce). Anyway, as we were working, we noticed this little baby bird had hopped over under the packing shed. This thing was little–barely could open its eyes–and we were worried that it would get hit by one of the forklifts. So, we found a small box, filled it with those cloth-like paper towels that come in a box (rag-in-a-box, I think it’s called?), and then maneuvered the baby bird into the little refuge we created for it.
At lunchtime, I brought the bird home with me in the box. I left it on the back porch and explained what had happened to my mom. My mom always had a soft spot for animals, probably where I get my over-the-top compassion for them, so she tried to help me figure out a way to help it. We decided that if we took bread and soaked it in water, it would be enough to simulate the regurgitation feeding he’d get from his momma and hopefully it could sustain him until we were able to get him to a vet. We got a glass of water and a slice of bread and walked out onto the lawn with the bird. However, our efforts were in vein–although the bird did stretch up its neck and opened its mouth for food (it was *that* young), the bread *just* missed its mouth and the little thing ended up running/hopping away into the bushes where we couldn’t get to it.
I spent the rest of my lunch break looking for it and was getting more and more upset as the hour went on the baby bird remained MIA. My dad had been irritated about the whole ordeal to begin with–the fact I had brought it home, the fact my mom and I were trying to feed it soggy bread, the fact that I was getting more and more upset the more I realized the implications of what would happen to the bird now that it was alone and had no way to be fed.
I did my damnedest to hide my tears and sadness when I got back in the pick up truck to head back to work. At first we rode in silence, but after a few moments, my dad asked me if I was familiar with the “prime directive.”
“No,” I muttered to the dirty windows.
He went on to explain that The Prime Directive was the most prominent guiding principle in the voyages of Star Trek, which stated there could be no interference with the planets/species they encountered on their missions. I had no idea why he was explaining this at first until we finally pulled into the yard at the shed, the cloud of dust from the dirt driveway finally settling around us.
“So what I’m saying is… sometimes no matter what you do, you aren’t able to save the things you want to–sometimes you can’t control the things that are painful. Sometimes you just can’t help the bad things from happening… But that’s OK. Sometimes, they just need to happen.”
And in that moment I learned many things: that life was complicated and brutal and filled with situations that just couldn’t be fixed. That sometimes the only way to properly handle a situation was to realize we have no control over it. Most importantly, I realized that my father was an actual person–not just my “dad,” but a sympathetic, thoughtful human being who knew that in order to allow me to learn the things I needed to, that he too needed to take heed of the Prime Directive. He knew I needed to experience the pain that came from learning a difficult lesson firsthand, that he would have to wait until after that difficult lesson was learned to provide me comfort.
Happy Father’s Day, dad. Thank you for allowing me to grow, to live, to love, to make mistakes, to succeed, to laugh, and to cry–to learn all those wonderful and heartbreaking life lessons–with your guidance, but without your interference.
Live long and prosper.