How to Make a Grown Man Cry!
“Fathers, do not exasperate your children, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4
Tonight I witnessed an event that has my stomach upset and my mind spinning. For better or worse, I do a fair amount of travel by commercial flights. I like the flying part, but since the 9-11-2001 attacks, the whole flying experience – particularly the airport segment – has become much less enjoyable. Anyone who flies often really needs an extra helping of patience, but it seems to me that patience is in short supply. As I waited in the Billings terminal for my 7:37 pm flight to Denver, the monitor screen above the boarding desk flashed an announcement that our departure time was delayed until 8:13 pm. It didn’t really make much of difference to me, as Denver was my final destination for the evening. I had computer work to do, which I could do at Billings or in the hotel at Denver, so I continued with my work. Unfortunately, other people were not so nonchalant about this event.
Almost immediately after the announcement, a man in his late thirties came up to the unoccupied boarding desk and, without saying word, his body language screamed his anger. Accompanying him was his young daughter, a girl of maybe 9 or 10 years old. The father seemed to be muttering something, but his words were not directed at her. The girl, as if responding to her father’s troubles, was offering some suggestions – along the lines that would be expected of a child her age. Yet Dad ignored her every word.
A few minutes later they were both at the pay phone, with him dialing a number and the girl seeming to anticipate that Dad would be handing the phone to her. In my mind I guessed he was calling his wife to tell her that they would either be late getting home tonight, or maybe they would miss a connection in Denver and wouldn’t make it home until tomorrow. Soon, I thought, he would hand the phone to his daughter so she could say goodnight to Mom. Well, I was partially right!
Dad began explaining to the party on the other end of the line that his flight was delayed, and they would be arriving late. Very quickly his voice became much louder and his tone more angry. Even worse, Dad’s end of the conversation escalated into repeated cursings of the other party, mostly beginning with F—, broken only by his demands that the other party “Shut Up!” At first the little girl pleaded for Dad to give her the phone, but later she tried to hide in a corner of two walls, with her face buried as deep as possible, murmuring imperceptible pleas to herself…or maybe they were prayers. Eventually Dad slammed the phone down and enlightened his daughter about the qualities of the other party. Then the pay phone rang! The girl tried to quickly answer the phone, but evidently Dad wanted to continue the conversation so he picked up right where he previously left off – same words, over and over, louder and louder – then slammed the receiver back on the hook, again. But the phone rang again. Same result, same words, same ending. And then it rang again, but this time there was a different ending. Oh, the conversation didn’t change much, but instead of hoping to get to talk to the other party, this time the girl walked away and melted into her chair. Her face was red, but not with embarrassment. She was oblivious to everyone else in the terminal, and, in fact, it seemed most were oblivious to her. At the verge of tears, the distress on her face was heart-breaking. I wanted so much to sit with her and just hug her, but instead I wiped my tears and prayed this would soon end.
But the game did change. Dad returned to his seat next to her, as he continued to spit out words that I couldn’t hear, but I’m sure were not complimentary of anyone. Then the phone rang, again! This time the little girl bolted for the phone and answered the call – but Dad quickly took the phone away. Some new comments erupted from him; “Go Ahead!” “I’m ready for you!” “Do it and see what happens!” “I’ll tear you apart, just try it!” Repeat again. Then again. I guess Dad exhausted his vocabulary, because the fourth time he didn’t even get up from his seat. Finally the girl got to talk to the other party!
Let’s take a break for a moment. By this time my feeble brain has filled in the gaps. Bitter divorce. Dad has weekend custody of daughter. He’s not going to have his daughter back to Mom by the court appointed time. Etc, etc, etc. But I am excited because the little girl finally will get a chance to hear Mom’s voice and comforting words that will calm her down, as only a mother can do. Oh, how I wished I was right!
Meanwhile, back at the payphone…”Mommy, we’re at the airport!” “No, the plane isn’t here yet!” “It’s late” “No, Mommy, no!” “Yes, I do!” “Yes, Mom, I really DO!” “But Mom, I love you!” “I DO love you!” Over and over, my heart wrenched as she pleaded with Mom, trying with all her might to convince her that this was not some ploy she and Dad concocted to get a few more hours together. She begged with every ounce of conviction she had, wanting Mom to believe her. In the end, she seemed to fail miserably. As the call ended, I couldn’t make out her words through her sobbing. I didn’t have to, I knew by now. She ran back to her seat, crying loudly. Finally, almost twenty minutes after this drama began, Dad put an arm around her. I hope she felt it as a hug of love, but I’m afraid Dad’s motive was simply to quiet the poor child. Right action – wrong motive – lucky result.
I can’t relive the subsequent phone calls. By now, you know what happened. Praise God our plane finally arrived and we could get away from the pay phone! I prefer to not have anyone seated next to me on planes, so when I can, I book the furthest row in the back, next to a window. Besides often not having the adjacent seat occupied, the other benefit is I usually get to board before most of the herd. So there I was, in the back of the bus and settling in for a quiet hour to Denver. A few minutes later, who should be heading my direction? Dad and daughter. But their seat assignments were odd. Dad had an aisle seat on the right side of the plane, while his girl had the window seat on the left side – directly in front of my seat. For awhile it appeared that the seat between would be vacant, but eventually a young man in his twenties filled that space. At first the girl seemed upset. After everyone was on board, I considered offering them my seat so they could sit together – but then I had another thought. If everyone remained seated where they were, she wouldn’t likely hear any more toxic verbage from Dad, and perhaps she could have some innocent conversation with her row mate. Thankfully, both happened – I finally guessed correctly. A few times she peered at me front between the seats – I smiled, winked my eye, and prayed for her.
After we deplaned, I saw them once more. Evidently the girl needed to use the restroom, much to Dad’s chagrin. Or at least that’s how is sounded when he nearly hollered at her to “Hurry up, and go!” Of course, I could be wrong – I was maybe fifty feet away and in a fairly noisy crowd of people when I overheard his sweet words. I don’t know how the rest of the story played out, but again my mind has written the script. Few words. Loud words. Hurtful words. Hateful words. No kindness. No Regard. No love. No God! More tears.
Am I being too judgmental? Perhaps. But this little girl is being used as a pawn between two adults who should know better. The life lessons she learned tonight are the building blocks of disaster. At her age, her biggest concern should be what clothes to put on her Barbie doll, cleaning her room or getting her homework done. I prayed several times tonight that Holy Spirit will come upon this child, and her family. She needs stability, peace, love, and God in her life everyday. If you can spare a few minutes, she can use your prayers too!