My Papa, a Knife, and Forgiveness

The following is the second guest post from David Roberts, who is one of the best high school English Teachers in the land by day and a defender of all things awesomely manly by night. He also happens to be my brother-in-law.



A little over a week ago, I posted a piece in defense of the pocket knife. Composing that post prompted me to think about a story involving my grandfather–my mom’s dad, whom I call “Papa”, pronounced “Paw-Paw”–a gift from him to me, and something he taught me about forgiveness.

My grandpa has almost always carried a pocket knife. As a child, I mostly saw him clean his fingernails with it, though occasionally I’d see him cut some rope or skin a raccoon with it. As a child, I also wanted to do exactly whatever my Papa was doing. So if he carried a pocket knife, I wanted to carry a pocket knife.

About 10 years old when I expressed this desire, I was just a bit young to get my own Buck or Case. However, my grandpa came up with a solution. He somehow came in the possession of a little one-blade pen knife probably no longer than your pinky. He gave it to me during a weekend visit to his house, and I immediately went to the front yard to start throwing it, blade out, into the dirt.

I threw it a few times near my feet, each throw ending with a satisfying little thump as the knife went blade-deep (about two inches) into the black, soft dirt of the front yard. But after a throw no more than two or three minutes into my session, I couldn’t find the knife. It was brightly colored–yellow or green, I can’t remember now–but I somehow couldn’t locate it among the grass in a two-feet radius around my feet. To this day, I still don’t know if I threw it too hard and buried it, or if it got lost in some standing water close by. Either way, I’d managed to lose this present from my Papa, and my childhood self already felt guilty about it.

After futilely looking for several minutes, I went back inside, hoping my grandpa wouldn’t mention the knife. He didn’t, not that day. But over my next several visits, he mentioned it a couple times, always asking me how I liked carrying it and what I’d been doing with it. I’m getting a little choked up even now thinking about how proud he was to have given me that token of his affection, his love. Still, every time he asked about it, I felt another longer, sharper knife of guilt go a bit deeper into my conscience.

Eventually, maybe a month or two later, I confessed to my mother what had happened. And I admitted I couldn’t bring myself to tell Papa what had happened, and worse yet that I’d lied to him about it–several times–since then. She suggested a solution: I should write him a letter. Knowing I had to assuage my conscience, I agreed. I composed it, she put a stamp on it, the postman delivered it.


Now here’s the best part. My grandfather never again mentioned the knife, nor did he ever mention the letter. I think he knew my heart was too tender.

I also think he knew what forgiveness really is. Of course, he would say there was nothing to forgive, that I’d merely lost something and been ashamed to admit it, but I think otherwise. When a man forgives, it’s got to be absolute. Immediate. Total.

Like Michael, my grandpa taught me a lot about manhood. This was just one of many lessons and examples, one I’m so glad to share.


I supposed I’ve fibbed a bit here, too. My grandfather did mention the knife and the letter, but only many years later, and out of a sense of sentimentality. He’d kept that letter for years, and showed it to my teenage self on another weekend visit. He smiled as he pulled it out and asked me to read it. We both laughed.

Then he reached in his pocket and pulled out another gift for me. This one a little bigger, with three blades and a bone handle. A pocket knife.



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