With the fall like temperatures gracing our area last week, I had the opportunity to spend some time with not only my girls but also my granddaughters. Excited about having the opportunity to hang out with PoPa, the name my grandbabies have given me, the girls decided that the best use of their time away from the watchful eyes of their parents would be to spend a ton of time in the swimming pool. Agreeing, I assembled the supplies necessary to fill my time while I sat idly by, watching the girls but daring not to enter the turbulent water caused by four young children at play. Little did I know that on this joyful day my heart would sink due to the words of a child.
As the day passed by, the girls had a blast, running and jumping, splashing, and avoiding the water thrown by their siblings, while several other children descended upon the pool and began playing. As I watched, intently, I observed a young boy who had joined in on the fun. Being a bit out of place, the boy held his own along the playing fields occupied by so many little girls. Acting silly like little boys often do, this little man filled his time by showing off his newly learned diving and belly flop abilities, surely in hopes that one of the girls would notice.
Midway through the day I observed the boy moving rapidly towards me. As he arrived at my location, he began explaining to me, with a heightened level of urgency, that the swimming pool ladder was broken. As I moved towards the ladder, the young boy trailed me assuring me that the issue was dire. I listened, and honestly chuckled a little as the boy yelled out “don’t worry, the boss is here, and he will fix it”. Seeing that the ladder had simply came undone, I quickly re-seated the poles while checking to ensure the rubber protective sleeves remained affixed to the feet of the ladder.
It was then that a series of simple words caused me to step back and truly think about life in general. As I worked on the ladder, the boy continued feverishly explaining how the situation was of enormous importance. Hearing the boy’s fervor, an adult female who was swimming at the time, turned to the boy and said, “Don’t worry, your dad is going to fix it”. Upon hearing those words, the boy stopped in his tracks. Turning towards the woman, the young boy excitedly spoke the words which have remained an ember in my mind for the entire weekend. Upon turning to the woman this gentle little man said “Dad, is he my daddy”. Feeling the excitement in the boy’s voice added to my unease about what this little man must be going through in life. As the boy turned to me, I fully understood the importance of the words I would choose to use upon responding.
Striving to ensure honestly, while allowing the boy to save face, I simply replied that I wish I was, but I was merely a friend. The boy shrugged the conversation off and although returning to play, I noticed that unlike his play prior, he centered his play near my location for the rest of the day. I do not know what the situation surrounding this little boy’s life entailed and likewise I would never mean to criticize but the words haunted me. For a child to excitedly voice “is he my dad” leaves a wide array of questions in my mind.
The feelings of sympathy initially raced through my mind. Before me sat a young child who didn’t seem to know who his parent was. My sympathy quickly turned to a level of internal anger over the perceived fact that any parent would possibly abandon or refuse a relationship with a child to progress. These feeling coupled with my full understanding that I did not know the particulars of the situation, had little bearing upon my emotional state that day.
Life is difficult and parenting seems to many times compound those hardships. If we never lose sight of the fact that before us lies a lump of clay, rapidly turning on the potters lathe, being molded by our words and more so by our actions, into a thing of beauty, meaning, and purpose, it is then that we will understand our duty as the potter. Mold them into greatness my friends; we owe it to them.
Richard J. Stephens lives in Carter County and is the father of three little ladies ranging in age from eight to 29.