Sometimes I need to get away from the office in order get some work done. That’s when I venture to the local coffee shop downtown. The hiss of the espresso machine and the light buzz of conversation while “Coffeehouse Music” plays overhead is the perfect noise to help me focus. Perhaps you can relate.
What I don’t usually expect to hear is the sound of a baby screaming.
That’s what I found on my last visit for a mocha while catching up on email. Just a few tables away sat a young couple, mid 20s, and their two small daughters, probably three years and six months old. It looked like the mom had some textbooks open while the dad was helping the 3-year-old munch on a chocolate muffin. They collectively looked a little tired—understandably so—but all was calm at first. Parents were sipping coffee and kids were acting chill.
But then, it took a turn.
As dads, we can often sense when things are about to get out of control. The young dad got up for a coffee refill or something. Then the infant started crying. The 3-year-old ran away from Mom to see where Dad went. Mom panicked for a second and had to put the baby on the floor, still screaming. Dad came back with the 3-year-old close behind. But when Dad stopped, the toddler kept walking and bumped into his leg. Coffee spilled out of his cup and onto the floor, scaring the toddler into tears. In just 60 seconds, they seemed on the verge of chaos.
I wasn’t intently watching this whole time, but could kind of see it all take place out of the corner of my eye. When the screaming got louder, I looked up, expecting to see the young dad distraught.
However, he was smiling. Yes, smiling!
Perhaps he didn’t want to lose it in public, but whatever the case, he kept his cool.
Mom looked a little overwhelmed, but also held it together. She scooped up baby and toddler and just sat and hugged them until they all calmed down. I marveled at her reserve.
Dad then wiped up the coffee spill on the floor, swept the muffin crumbs off the table, and tidied up for the next guests. They gathered their belongings and peacefully walked out the door. That situation could have gone a completely different direction with parents dragging kids out of the place kicking and screaming. Honestly, this onlooker thought it was building toward that outcome. But that didn’t happen.
I caught myself wanting to reach out to this young couple—but particularly to the young dad. I’m no old man yet, but I probably have 10 years’ experience over him. My kids are now 11, 9 and 2. I wanted to shake this young guy’s hand and commend him for doing it right. Commend him for taking care of his wife and kids like a pro. It’s tough to figure this stuff out right away.
I’ve felt their exhaustion. I’ve felt their panic in public when kids go crazy. I think we all have. It’s just part of the dad job.
But one thing I know is that getting frustrated and huffy about it never helped matters much. In fact, my reactions to situations often impact my family’s reactions. If they see me get frustrated and angry, they usually follow suit. That’s when all hell can break loose. But when I stay calm, they stay calm.
This young dad in the coffee shop reminded me of that.
To this newish dad who didn’t know I was watching: keep up the good work, young man. You’re making a great impression on your family, as well as those around you. I wish you all the best in this crazy, fun, frustrating, amazing journey.