An hour ago I was shopping at my local Safeway store. My daughter, Annie, returned last night from a semester abroad in northern Italy. I wanted to prepare a lovely northern Italian meal for her and for some of her friends. I figured I’d have something to eat also. I would make extra.
I was ambling down the Safeway isle which offered pasta sauces, pickles and canned beans, among other delicacies. I was searching for canned whole plum tomatoes, to be used in cooking a classic Tuscan white bean soup. I couldn’t find what I was looking for. I kept walking up and down the canned tomato section, searching.
A few feet from me was a man, early thirties, at the oldest, and two small children, a girl three years old, four at the most, and what I assumed was her brother, a little fellow about a year older. They were adorable. I smiled at both children.
Within moments of noticing them, the little boy leaned against the shelf that had jars of pickles, among other jars and cans. A jar of pickles fell onto the floor. The father yelled at the child. The jar did not break. No mess on the floor resulted. Only one jar of pickles lay six inches from the bottom shelf where it had resided peacefully moments before. The father’s voice was not a voice out of control but rather a cold attacking voice with a violent edge. He hissed, “I told you to stay away from the shelves. Now stay in the middle of the isle, like I told you.” The little girl’s lips were quivering.
The little boy tried to say something. He was shaking. The father said again in a raised voice just a hint short of yelling, “Don’t give me any reasons. And you call me sir, you got that? You say ‘yes sir.’” The children moved away from the shelf. “You say yes sir,” the father repeated. The little boy said “Yes sir.” A sense of menace emanated from the father. Images percolated in my mind of a hand grenade with the pin 98% out, rolling around in a car on a bumpy road.
I was deflated. How can children overcome that aggressive authoritarian assault? What chance do they have with a parent like that? There was no expression of love; no guidance, no gentle direction. It was, rather, a demonstration of raw, defensive power. If the father behaves this way in public, things do not auger well for those children when they are alone with this man.
My book, whatever merits it may have, will never reach such parents, I fear. They will never respond to my messages, messages crafted over twenty years while visiting with and chatting with marvelous children. Indeed, how in the world do we help such children? I am aware that I might be unfair in judging that man. I might have seen a moment of aberrant behavior. Maybe the dad lost is job that day. Could be. Who knows. But not likely.
I looked at the faces of those two small children. I saw fear and I saw embarrassment. How can any of us help them? I am saddened. Maybe a comment from one of my readers can elevate my spirits by persuading me I am over reacting. I want to hear it. But I don’t believe it