I stayed overnight at the Hampton Inn last week and was in the dining room for breakfast. A few yards from me was a young couple with three small children. I was minding my business, reading my Bible, as the following scene played out nearby.
The eldest child, a cute boy of roughly 6, was pleading with his father to go to the pool (which was tantalizingly visible through the windows of the dining room). He was persistent without being disrespectful, as he kept saying in a cherubic voice, "Dad, can we please go to the pool? Please, Dad, can we?"
The father and mother never responded and were paying no particular attention. Their minimal communication with the children was geared toward efficiency and little more-curt and bored commands about eating functions. The boy persisted, "Dad, can we please go to the pool?" He must have mouthed that sentence verbatim 50 times. He finally thought to embellish his appeal: "Daddy, I'll teach you how to swim! You just have to kick your feet, OK?" No reply. Not even eye contact. My heart was breaking.
Last summer my 17-year-old daughter happened to be painting a fence in a yard that was contiguous to a property where a woman was loudly berating her two little daughters, even hurling profanity at them. This was grievous to my hot-blooded child, but she at first did nothing-she had no dog in that fight. Finally, she put down the paintbrush and walked up to the mother and said, "Lady, do not think they won't remember this when they're 17."
The downside of courage is meddling; the downside of cowardice is betrayal. I am not like my daughter, and I stayed put at my table. It must be said in my defense that the situations were not identical: There was no overt child abuse going on at the Hampton Inn, just a very common everyday occurrence.
What my heart wanted me to do was reach into the dad's and mom's chests and sear this thought in them with a branding iron: Parenting is more than putting food on the table and a roof over the head. Parenting is delighting. It is enjoying. It is reveling.
What I really wanted to do was wind the clock back 30 years and start over. And this time I would lean over to my son, lock his eyes in mine, and say, "Hey J, there's a pool. Let's you and me forget the packing for a few minutes-and last one in the water is a rotten egg!"