A Man's Character

“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”
~John Wooden, legendary basketball player and coach

My son’s vocabulary has increased dramatically in the past few months and he has begun to repeat much of what he hears me say. One of the phrases he’s picked up is “go, go, go, go, go.” The first time he said it, we were heading out the door on our way to school. I laughed aloud, realizing that on this particular morning, he beat me to the punch. I am usually the one saying “go, go, go, go, go,” as I rush out the door, later than I’d hoped to leave. When we pull alongside the curb in front of the school, I hop out of the car and rush to my son’s door. I hurriedly open it, then scramble to get him out of his car seat. I silently hope that today he won’t drop Thomas the Tank Engine and Percy in the grass because my bending down, picking them up, wiping them off and giving them back to him will add another two minutes to my tardiness. Alas, there goes Thomas. And Percy. After they are both safely back in his hands, I grab his wrist and estimate that we will now be only twelve minutes late. But he must stop and admire the beauty of the fire hydrant. I try to mask my impatience with a smile as other parents pass me with their children walking briskly en route to class. My loud sighs do nothing to convince Luke that we should get going, as we are now already thirteen minutes behind schedule. I exhale loudly, but Luke is completely oblivious to my timetable as he giddily admires the butterfly in the bush. With no choice but to stand and wait, I look across the street. A parent opens his car door and gently lifts his daughter onto the curb. His son then exits the car and he slowly places his son’s backpack on his shoulder. There was a noticeable calm about this parent, something so serene in his demeanor towards his children. “He’s just having a really good day,” I thought to myself, before turning my attention back to Luke- who by now was walking snail’s pace up the sidewalk to his class. 

Perhaps out of subconscious curiosity, I watched this father and his children numerous times following that day. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the rapport he had with his children on what I deemed his “good day” was the rapport he had every day I saw them. If his daughter dropped her toy, he patiently waited while she picked it up. Then, he assuredly placed his arm on her shoulder as they continued walking. He engaged in conversation with his children, seemingly soaking in every word they spoke- blissfully unaware of the passage of time. This stroll up the sidewalk, around the bend and into the classroom carried meaning in it for him. While I was overly concerned with how quickly Luke and I could arrive at our destination, this father appeared to relish in the journey. I watched from afar. I watched, giving no indication that I was watching. And that is what made this father’s rapport with his son and daughter so much more poignant for me.

As this year comes to an end my heart has embraced the grace and mercy by which I made it through. Now my heart turns to what lies ahead. I want to be more compassionate, more giving. I want to stop more and admire the simple beauties around us, the way my son does. I want to pause long enough to see the butterflies. I want to pass the character test. 

As we walked up the school’s sidewalk one morning, I told this father that I plan to nominate him as a candidate for Parent of the Year, though I neglected to tell him why:

I would nominate him not only for what I watched him do, but for what I watched him do when he wasn’t aware that anyone was watching. Because that is the true test of a man’s character.