She caught my eye just before she started to sob. Her lips drew down in a heavy frown and began to quiver uncontrollably. Then she cried. As the tears flooded from her five year old eyes, I witnessed her young fathers rage.
I have no idea what she had done to upset him so. Maybe she needed correction and discipline. What she received appeared to be much different. As I watched his arms wave in the air and his words batter her young spirit, she laid her head on the table, covered her eyes and tried to hide her shame from those of us who sat around her in the crowded restaurant. His angry tirade went on for several minutes before he finally allowed her to eat her meal in silent sadness.
Most likely I would have forgotten the scene had I not witnessed more of this familys evening out. As their meal time drew to a close, the little girl told her mother she needed to visit the restroom. She was told to go ahead. My wife and I watched as she wandered around the large dining room, going very close to the front doorway before finally finding the rest room area at the opposite corner of the building. It seemed to us that she was gone a very long time to be so young and all by herself. Finally, much to our relief, she returned.
As the family prepared to leave, the little girl was told to put on her coat. She obeyed, but couldnt manage the zipper. An older woman at the next table offered her grandmother like help, which the little girl gladly accepted, as her impatient father looked on. When the zipper finally cooperated, the little girl smiled from ear to ear and said loud enough for me to hear, Thank you. As she left, she looked back at the kind woman and said again, Thank you! Bye, bye!
Possibly I saw and then imagined more than was actually there. I hope so. Maybe Im jumping to conclusions. But I really doubt it. The fact is some men do not know how to be good fathers. And apparently, many do not want to grow in this essential life-shaping, community building skill. Children resemble flowers. Bright, beautiful and extremely delicate, children need dads who care enough to work hard at performing their parental tasks with care and thoughtfulness. Fathers need to approach this part of their lives with an on going commitment to growth, excellence and love.
Fathers must discipline their young children in a manner that combines firmness with hopeful tenderness. Effective dads regard mistakes as opportunities for growth and development rather than occasions to vent pent-up personal frustration or rage. Dads who are serious about guiding their sons and daughters to maturity will never shy away from the hard work of self-evaluation for the sake of their own growth as human beings and caregivers.
The little girl I saw in the restaurant needed the comfort of her dads arms and the security of his lap. She may have required instruction and correction for misbehaving, but she also needed forgiveness and encouragement. What she experienced was anger, impatience and what appeared to be lazy unconcern. Dads who expect the best for their children must do better. Children require a commitment every bit as serious as the commitment we fathers often make in the workplace.
Little girls and little boys need heroes, champions and strong, but gentle guardians. The smile, the appreciation and the thank you the little girl gave so freely to the strange woman should have been reserved for her dad. Sadly, he did not earn it, and she probably felt he would not have valued it had she offered it to him. It didn't matter so much on the night I saw her. Some day it will matter more than he can imagine.