Saturday, September 13, 2014
An Open Letter to The Tech-Distracted Dad in Dennys
I watched you and your son today. At first it was because the two of you together gave me such a warm feeling sitting there side by side on one side of a booth. I admired you for possibly making a decision to sit next to your son instead of across from him. That intimacy was nice to imagine...and it seems that that was all I was doing...imagining. Very quickly my opinion of you changed and truly my heart broke for both your son and you. What a waste your breakfast was. What a waste of a moment you will never get back.
While your son poked away at his banana french toast, your meal went untouched. Your head was down, fingers flying across the screen of a smart phone. You sat in silence. No one spoke for 10 straight minutes. Yes...I timed it. I. Timed. It. While you amused yourself with texts and games and Facebook, your son swung his legs, put a few bites of food in his mouth and stared off into space. Every once in awhile, he'd look over at me. I'd smile. But he was shy, not really trusting my friendliness. But I kept staring, willing you to pick up your head and meet my eyes. But you never did. You never did.
That son of yours, he's beautiful. His eyes are so big and so clear. Have you ever looked into them? Do they stay with you the way they have stayed with me? What do you think he saw with those eyes today? I know, if you don't. He saw a father that was completely and utterly checked out. He saw a father who didn't understand the miracle that was sitting next to him. He saw a father who was more interested in words and games and images then he was with the flesh and blood and a vessel of feelings. He kept looking at you hoping that he was noticeable. And unfortunately he never saw himself as that. He never did.
There was a moment...a very quick moment...in which I thought that you were going to prove me wrong, that perhaps the inattentiveness was just a fluke. You raised your head. My heart leaped and so did your son's. I saw it in those beautiful eyes and in the way he snapped to attention and sat up straight and tall. "Here I am daddy!" he seemed to say. I waited holding my breath to see if the interaction you were about to have would be a deep one, a necessary one, a meaningful one. It wasn't. It wasn't at all. "Be sure you eat those bananas" you said staring at his plate, and you instantly went back to your phone surfing. So you missed it. You missed his distress. He crumbled. I am not sure it was because he didn't like bananas or because of your inability to see your son as a human who needs you and your attention and your wisdom and your eyes gazing into his and your support and your love...good gracious...he needs your love. After you looked away, his gorgeous face squeezed into one thousand muscle contractions of pain. Those gorgeous eyes shined with pooled tears and his mouth opened in one of those heart breaking silent cries. He cried silently for 3 minutes. Yes...I timed it. I. Timed. It. And you never looked over. You never reached for him. You never stole one of those bananas and elbowed him in jest. You didn't notice the silent cry. But I did and I can't forget it.
When the crying subsided, a change came over that angelic face. Your son made a decision. He was GOING to get your attention no matter what. At first he tried to impress you. All decked out in his soccer uniform, cleats, socks, jersey, and shorts, he stood up and practiced his kicks. He kicked over and over and over and over glancing at you after each and every kick. Very soon those kicks changed. It was almost undetectable, but there was a change. Those kicks became fiercer. He grunted with each one and swung his leg hard. He stopped looking at you and zoned in on those violent air kicks. I wonder what he imagined was at the end of them. Maybe I don't wonder...When the kicks didn't work, that son of yours crawled under the restaurant table. He was old to do that. Had to be at least 8. But that didn't matter. He was under the table, legs sprawled across your feet. Did you feel them? You didn't indicate so. Then he got up on his knees, head crouched down and he started rocking the loose chair across from you. Did you see it? You didn't indicate so. When that didn't work, he got up and my heart jumped into my throat as he walked away from the table toward the door. He clearly had enough. He marched with purpose one, five, ten strides and then...well then he looked back with that old hope in his beautiful eyes. You finally noticed. You finally looked up from the sanctified phone. "We are going in a sec," you mumbled. And then you shifted your attention to the meal. "Wow! That was an expensive breakfast!" you exclaimed. Yes sir, yes sir it was. It was a very expensive breakfast but not in the way that you were talking about.
That breakfast cost you. It cost you a great deal. It cost you the chance to connect with your son one-on-one, man-to-man. It cost you a moment to talk about the game, to teach him about sportsmanship, to tell him how much you enjoy watching him play or smile or kick or chat with his teammates. It cost you the privilege of perhaps teaching him what a man SHOULD be like as a father. It cost you seconds, minutes, an hour of gazing into those beautiful eyes. That is time that you will NEVER have refunded. It cost you a chance to high five him, to tell him a joke, to ask him about school or to help him solve a problem. Oh sir, it cost you, and if you continue on this tech-obsessed road, you will end up very poor indeed.
I have been doing this parenting thing for a long time and I can tell you for sure, I can promise you without a wavering certainty that you will ultimately one day lose the greatest riches that has ever been bestowed upon you. Your inattentiveness, your inability to connect, your lack of respect for the human that you created will cost you your son. And trust me when I say that when that day comes, you will look back and wish that you had been the father that he needed. You will wish that you taught him what a father/son relationship should be like. You will wish that you had been present in triumphs and his mistakes. And by "present" I mean THERE really THERE telling him what's right, what's wrong, how to be a successful human, how to grow into a confident adult, how to respect women like his mother and perhaps a sister. You'll wish that you looked into his eyes more often and marveled at the beauty of them. You will lose him--mentally, or physically or emotionally or a combination of all three.
Is your phone more important than the relationship you have with your son? Moment to moment it may feel urgent. It may feel more important. Business calls. You and his mom are divorced and you are trying to connect with a new woman. You may even be doing it to spite that ex spouse or baby mama without even knowing you are. But I ask you again sir, how will your inattentiveness effect your son's future? Have you ever thought about it? How will you feel if there comes a time, when breakfasts with him, chats with him, watching him play soccer is no longer an option? He'll rebel. He will rebel. A child without the guidance of a responsible father will soon feel angry and resentful and unimportant and he or she will inevitably turn to someone or someTHING else to fill the hole? What will you do then? Do you think your phone will give you the answer?