I should save this for Father’s Day but these feelings are with me now, so I thought I’d share them even if it’s a little early.
They entered the restaurant exhilarated: an older man carrying a small boy, a grandchild probably, his hand cradling the back of the child’s neck, their heads close enough to touch. I surmised this was the first time ever that these two had ventured out just by themselves. Somewhere, I imagined, there was a houseful of relatives from which they had escaped.
|photo by David Mercer|
They discussed their order at length, which was a complicated affair: Burgers or chicken nuggets? Fries? Milk or soda? A chocolate shake instead? And which small toy to choose? That task completed, they reached their table, where the man began to set out their meal.
Then the boy darted away, I think in search for a restroom. The man did a double take as he processed that his charge had vacated the vicinity. I had been enjoying watching them, and when the boy took off, I kept my eyes on him until the man could catch up. The boy turned a corner, and I saw another man come to attention to keep watch over him. The old man scurried past, muttering about how fast the little guy could move. I pointed him in the right direction. The second man also pointed.
The old man caught up with him and they continued their outing. The other man and I relaxed our vigil and resumed our respective meals.
There was something significant about that moment when all three of us men, strangers to each other, shared guardianship over the child. I have no doubt that each of us was a father, in the older man’s case a grandfather, because we each automatically slipped into the role of protector. It’s what we do for our children. And when necessary, we watch over each other’s children, too.
|Photo by David Mercer|
My sons are grown and preparing to pursue their destinies. Like that child, they will be darting away outside the range of my protection. I think they’re ready but I hope there are some dads out there who will lend a hand if I can’t be there. I’ll do the same for the young ones around here.
Presumably, one day my sons will become fathers, and the moment it happens they will understand me a little better. We will look into each other’s eyes and recognize the protective quality we share for the children.