I sat near a father and his three children at McDonald’s last October. The boys were maybe eight and ten. The little girl, perhaps five.
The children ate quietly. The young father, who wore a ball cap pulled down, hunkered over his cell phone texting or playing games. The entire time. The little girl repeatedly tried to engage her daddy, but he didn’t even look up. The little boys didn’t even try.
I wanted to shake that young man and say, “Grow up! Be a father! Put your toy away and talk with your children!” But I didn’t.
Today I went to HFC for lunch: Higdon Ferry Café. Tasty, inexpensive, country fare. Local color.
When a young father wearing a necktie came in with his little girl, I perked up. She was four or five. I thought, Watching them talk and play together during their meal will be delicious.
But as soon as they sat down, instead of playing with his little girl, the man grabbed his cell phone and started playing with it.
When the waitress came, the child ordered. I couldn’t hear what she ordered, but her father said, “No, she can’t have that.” Then he ordered for her and himself, not taking his eyes off his toy.
I thought, He probably doesn’t have enough money to pay for what she wanted. He ordered what he could afford. He’ll put down his phone in a minute and talk to her. Ha.
When the waitress left, the little girl tried valiantly to visit with her daddy, but he ignored her and continued playing with his phone. When she reached for him, he grabbed her arm and hissed, “Be still!” She continued trying to engage him. He grabbed her arm again and spat, “Stop it!” Thirty seconds later, he grabbed her tiny wrist and snarled, “Shut up!”
Then she said something and he jerked her up and pulled his right arm back as though he were going to backhand her. I gasped.
I knew not to make a scene. She would suffer the consequences later if I embarrassed him. But I had to interrupt this escalation. So I plucked a small toy from my purse. I walked over to him. “May she have this toy?” I asked. “It’s hard to sit still for a long time. I know because I’m an old first-grade teacher.”
He neither looked at me nor spoke. His lips formed a thin, white line, but he took the toy. He realized that someone- maybe everyone- had been watching him.
This afternoon, I have tried to see the world through that young father’s eyes. What heartache could cause a daddy to ignore and then threaten his little girl so he could play with his cell phone? Had he just lost his job? His fortune? His love?
I don’t know the answer.
But I do know the prayer.
Father God, turn men with children into daddies. Make them patient. Make them gentle. Make them kind. And teach them that their children are infinitely more important than fancy phones. Amen.