Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Forgive our Fathers

“I can’t believe you did that. Playing with the fucking game instead of paying attention. Fuck. You’re such a fucking idiot. Sit the fuck down. Shut up before I smack you.”

This was repeated, in various forms, on the bus today. It was a father reprimanding his son, who couldn’t have been more than eight years old. The little boy walked to the front of the bus to throw away the drink he had spilled. As he walked back, I glanced up at him, and he met my gaze, his expression taut with fear, and continued past.

His dad continued to curse at him, and every once in a while, the boy would quietly defend himself or ask what he was supposed to do to make things right. His dad would bark orders and call him more names. He had him use his sweatshirt to soak up the spilled drink.

And I just sat there, listening. Everyone in the seats around me sat there listening. Everyone pretended it wasn’t going on. At several moments, I felt sure that I had the courage to turn around and ask the man if there was something I could do to help, even if it meant he would re-direct his anger at me – at least it wouldn’t be at his son.

I grew up with a father who was prone to spats of yelling and cursing and violence. I know what it is like to fear someone you look up to and love so much. And the fact that this man was threatening to hit him in public made the situation worse – if he was that bold in front of strangers, what was he like behind closed doors?

I was disgusted with myself for just sitting there, even after the father quieted for a long stretch of the one hour bus ride. I thought of all the times when, as a little girl, I would step up in the defense of another child who was being picked on. I made an effort to befriend the misfits. Why? Because something very strong in me told me that it was wrong to let others be mistreated – even when I was a kindergartener. I idolized Martin Luther King, Jr., and knew the meaning (but not the words) of his “I Have a Dream” speech. As I got older and hung out with more “popular” kids, some of that morality faded, and I no longer so openly defended others for fear of being attacked myself.

But today on the bus, President Obama’s words that “we are our brother’s keepers,” wormed into my heart, and I used his request that we help one another, to make a new America, to lend me courage. As Gandhi says, “be the change you seek in the world.”

I pulled out a piece of paper and wrote the little boy a note:

You are special. You are beautiful. Even when you hurt.

We all must forgive our fathers someday.

Follow your dreams. Never give up.

I handed it to him as he got off the bus. His father had calmed down considerably by that point, and was being rather affectionate, undoubtedly feeling guilty for his outbursts earlier. I saw the little boy open the note and read it. I’m sure some of it was way over his head, but I wanted him to know that though we were silent, we heard, and that though he may feel so small, he can be as big as he wants to be. His father glanced at the note over his shoulder then looked away. The boy folded it up again and I was too timid to look in their direction.

A young man across the aisle from me leaned over. “Did you give him a note that says ‘It’s not your fault your dad’s an asshole?’”

“Yeah, pretty much.”


They got off the bus and walked to another bus stop. I saw the little boy unfold the note and read it again. His dad lit a cigarette and took the note from him and read it as well. Yeah, buddy. That note was for you, too.

They were hugging and playing with a yo-yo as we drove off.

Sometimes people don’t realize how much hurt they’re inflicting with their anger.

I didn’t tell the bus driver that I had heard him threaten his son because I know that some men are volcanoes that need to occasionally erupt, over small things, but that they still love their children. Maybe that’s not good enough (and there is no excuse for harming your child, physically or verbally) but things might not always be as bad for those two as they seemed on the bus today. I didn’t want to do something that would potentially break up their family. But maybe I should have.

I like to think I helped, even just by showing the boy that he wasn’t alone, and by letting the father know that I heard, and that I found him unacceptable.

Forgive our Fathers from Smoke Signals (music by Ulali)

Mackenzie’s Momma – You’re still here! :D But those classes sound so poopy! :( I hope that, once the weather warms up a bit, you’ll be able to spend more time with your goaties. I know what unique personalities goats have, and how fun it is to just sit and watch the curious cloven critters poke about!


Mackenzies Momma said...

Growing up in a similar environment(though for me it was/is my mother who took on the father's role) I wish somebody had been brave enough to step up even with just a simple note.

Classes- I was actually *TEACHING* them {eek!} which made the womans' McKay to my Zelenka more difficult to handle as I've become very non-confrontational about that kind of thing these days.

I sooo cannot wait for spring to roll around will make everything so much nicer once I can get out into the pasture with the ladies again. I miss our quiet moments.

Tracie said...

That was a very nice thing you did. I have a 13 year old boy who is very sweet but sometimes frustrates me. My mom used to say "He's just a little person" and should be treated with the same respect you treat everyone else. So I remember that when I get upset with him, not always easy when he frustrates me to no end, but it's important to remember. As parents we have such an impact on how our kids act to other people and how good they feel about themselves. I'm sure you made a huge difference with that little boy.

theincrediblemo said...

I can totally sympathise. However, I have turned around and told off the father. Its one thing I can't stand, growing up with it as well. From the time I was 14 I was already telling my father off, I've never been much for anything in demeaning nature.

Maybe I have more of influence because of how I'm situated in social structure (I have family on both major gangs in province...)