It was just a glance. Hardly more. The entire scene played out before me in less than a minute. Truly, as if strangers passing in the night. The boy and his father never saw me. I tried not to stare.
I shall remember the moment until the day I die.
The boy, eighteen or thereabouts, had a serious physical disability. I would guess cerebral palsy. But I’m no expert. His arms were moving about unnaturally and his gait was measured and wobbly. But the smile on his face was genuine. The natural pity welled up in me and I was about half way into that “but for the grace of God” thought when I noticed his father’s left hand.
It was around his son’s shoulder and those long fingers had the strongest, firmest and yet, most gentle grip you’ll ever see. This man was protecting his most prized possession! The firmness in that wonderful hand was telling his son, “I’ve got you. Nothing happens to you or goes wrong this day.” A roaring mountain lion or a stampeding elephant couldn’t have shaken that grip. The boy was completely at ease. He knew he was safe! The gentleness bespoke of a love probably greater than you and I could ever understand.
We were at the Nashville Zoo. I was enjoying the morning trying to keep up with my favorite grandson. Luke was running and hopping and doing double back flips to beat the band.
The contrast came to me instantly.
But then I also saw the smile on the father’s face. No “how did this happen to me” look. No embarrassment. No apology. No hint of bewilderment or self-pity. It was a father and a son enjoying the zoo; enjoying the fresh air and the extraordinary gorgeous day; enjoying the sights and sounds of life. And, obviously, this father and son were enjoying each other’s company to the maximum.
Neither was feeling sorry for the other. I don’t understand all I know about life. We tend to put labels on people, situations, things…… and half the time we have no clue as to what is really taking place. We’d probably be a heap better off if we quit trying to figure out what everybody else ought to be doing, or what they should be thinking or how “they” should feel, and start enjoying life like this father and son.
I did wonder for a split second what my reaction might have been if I’d had to face the realization that my son was never going to be the star second baseman in Little League: or catch the winning touchdown in the Homecoming game; or just run through the woods like a normal child.
God undoubtedly knew how special this man was to give him such an awesome task.
If America is lacking anything in this world today it is commitment. Men so often adamantly refuse to commit to anything. They don’t commit to marriage. They bolt at the first sign of discomfort, disagreement or financial stress. I have no clue what the divorce rate in the country is but I know lack of commitment is the big culprit. Fathers don’t commit to children. “Let the school teach them….that’s what I pay taxes for”. They don’t commit to work. I’ve had more than one person interview for a job with me and before I could explain what we’re looking for, they had two questions, “How much do I get paid and how many vacation days do I get?”
It’s the same with responsibility. People don’t take ownership of their work. What is the least I can do and get by? They are not about to “go the extra mile” at the office, in their community or at church. People will start expecting them to do that all the time! They can’t be bothered by the responsibility of being the father in the house. Let the kids watch TV all day, that will keep them quiet and out of trouble.
Blame is so much easier than commitment or responsibility. We blame it on the umpire. Or the weather. Or politicians. We say, “The sun got in my eyes”. We blame it on the other woman. We blame it on luck. We declare, “The devil made me do it”.
We have more excuses about life than Carter had little liver pills!
And most of our role models are spoiled professional athletes or self-centered movie stars. How sad for us!
You see now why I turned aside at the Nashville Zoo to stare. Here was a man who accepted his responsibility in spades! You want to talk commitment? No son ever had it so good. No son was more watched over or better cared for. And I dare say more loved and appreciated. This father didn’t have time, and I don’t believe the inclination, to place blame. He was too busy living large.
And, oh by the way, he also managed to bless my heart. Wake up my senses. Shame me just a tad. Make me a better father. And renew my faith in mankind.
It’s amazing what life can teach you between the exotic birds and the elephant exhibit.