Last Saturday, we found ourselves, all six of us, in the Chick-fil-A drive thru. This is not rare or exceptional, in and of itself, as we are often to be found in various drive-thrus across this great city, Chick-fil-A being among the family favorites. It’s only notable in that my son spent the entirety of the 4 or so minutes of the drive-thru event, including the ordering and the food-money exchange portions, in a state of severe distress, a fact he vocalized by wailing as loud and forlornly as his tiny frame and vocal cords could muster.
His heartbreak? Breakfast was over, and they no longer were serving biscuits (Damn you, McDonald’s, and your belief breakfast should obey no man-made clock – we are forever ruined!)
I should say that this wailing event is also not rare in and of itself. We are used to inevitable outbreaks of sorrow and displeasure while on the road. We accept such occurrences as a matter of course with young kids, and talk often and openly about how we really need to invent a type of retractable, sound-proof screen which would emerge from the floor (or ceiling – we’re not particular) and block the front seats from the Thunderdome that is the back of the van.
For me, though, this drive-thru meltdown probably FELT a bit overwhelming that day due the fact that it came on the heels of an already long morning. My son, whose broken heart could have been healed at that moment via some dense carbs and grape jelly, had been getting up very early for several days in a row. On top of that, we had already spent the morning at Home Depot, participating in the monthly workshop for kids.
(If you’re not familiar with this, it’s a service offered by your local HD where they provide project kits of some sort or another which usually involve gluing or hammering or spot-welding (not really, but why not?) pieces of wood together to make some cute item or other. This month, the project was a wooden photo box for storing and displaying photos. Short of the fact that my kids managed to glue their boxes shut, and the fact that I spent a great deal of time chasing tiny nails around the stiflingly over-crowded space, it was a fun, if harrowing, time, at least for the kids.)
So, as terrible as it sounds, in that drive-thru moment, as my ears threatened to release steam like some cartoon animal, I began to think about how parenthood makes so little sense, how it goes against our “natural” instincts which seek comfort and peace for ourselves, above all. I turned to my wife, raising my voice so as to be heard over the biscuit-deficient screech, and asked her, with no irony whatsoever, why it is that people decide they want to have a child. It doesn’t make any sense. You give up so much, not the least of which are your quiet Saturday mornings, which are now spent breaking up fights and transporting kids to sporting events, and generally serving other human beings who are COMPLETELY oblivious to the fact that they are helpless without you and are generally ungrateful.
My wife, in an eerily calm voice of wisdom, reminds me of something that I believe but didn’t want to hear, namely that it is something we are created with, this innate sense and desire to have and to raise and to love children. That we are driven by something outside of us, something greater than ourselves.
Yet in that moment, with my son still weeping loudly, those reasons seemed a bit surreal and distant.
And just when I thought that my head would literally split open from the sobs (and the ancillary fighting coming from the other kids in the backseat – just white noise anymore), my son instantly stops crying, and says, “Daddy look at the rock that I found.” I turn and see his sweetly earnest face, still dampened by tears, looking right into my eyes. In his hand is essentially a glorified mud clod that he found at my parents’ house the last time he was there. He had been holding onto it all week because he wanted to go back to find more.
In that moment, being called daddy and being shown this thing that my son had discovered in nature and which gave him such a sense of wonder and joy, everything else from that morning, if even just briefly, disappeared, and I rejoiced with him. I saw in him traces of my own childhood, where going on a backyard journey of 100 feet to collect dirt and stones was thrilling and joyful and purpose-giving.
And I knew that feeling in my chest was the God-given love my wife had reminded me of. I LOVE this boy.
I love him. I love THEM.
I would do anything for him (and his sisters), the least of which is listening to this ear-splitting and (to me) irrational fit of mourning. It makes zero sense, but it is true and so much beyond me and my sense of “comfort”. It was a great moment as a father, at once a reminder and a revelation.
(But seriously, Chick-fil-A, how hard could it possibly be to have a biscuit or two hanging around past breakfast? Just throw some in a Ziploc baggie back where the employees clock in, or maybe behind the used grease vat; just anywhere convenient for you – he’s not picky.)