It was the second time in less than a week we were meeting regarding the misbehavior of his son. His son was a good kid who recently had made some poor choices. So his dad and I met. And we talked. Man to man. Our first meeting went well. His son was honest and the conversation went as it should. We met for about fifteen minutes and we ended the meeting on the same page.
Our second meeting was much longer. Not because there was any tension and not because there was any disagreement. But because we had the time and the space and the opportunity to talk. As we met in my office, the father sat in one chair. I sat in another and his son sat on the sofa. I’m not even sure if his feet touched the ground. He is only seven years old.
In my position as assistant principal I have many meetings, with many parents. But few, if any, have gone like this one. I wasn’t keeping track, but I’d estimate that we met for about an hour. The fact that I had this kind of time to meet with a parent was rare. But it was a gift.
This father said all the right things. He spoke and conducted himself in a manner in which I hope I do one day if I ever have to have this type of conversation. Never once did he raise his voice. Never once did he look to lay blame. And never once did he say or do anything that appeared to be out of line.
So why did something feel wrong? The father had said and done all the right things. The teacher, who I had called in to give a brief account, conducted herself perfectly. The other adult in the room listened and participated with respect and dignity. And the young boy was polite and devoted his full attention to the speaker at all times.
And then it hit me.
The young boy was alone. Sitting on the sofa, with his feet dangling and his heart pounding. I could see that he was on the verge of tears. Yes, he had misbehaved. And yes he was in some trouble. But he didn’t need to be alone.
I had to do something.
So I told him to stand up. Then I told him to go over and give his father a hug. And he melted into his father’s arms. He laid on his father’s chest and fit just like he must have the day he was born. That was where he stayed for the remainder of our meeting. A father and his son formed one heartbeat.
Our meeting lasted so long it caused the boy to miss his lunch time. I asked the dad if he would be able to stay and eat lunch with his son. I didn’t want the little boy to have to eat all by himself. The father said he had nothing but time and that he would definitely sit with his son while he ate.
We shook hands and hugged as we parted. The father and son went to the cafeteria to get lunch. I sat down at my desk and got back to work. About a half hour later, while I was on the phone, the father quietly opened my office door and waved bye.
Who does that?
Parents don’t usually come back to my office to say goodbye before they leave.
But this one did.
It was then and there that I knew that everything was going to be just fine. His kid may misbehave again or he may not. But either way, he would have his dad by his side. To guide him. To support him. To hug him. That is enough. In fact, that is more than enough. That is everything.
Sometimes when I get caught up in my work I tend to temporarily forget what matters most. The power of human connection. More specifically, the power of hugs.
I am lucky that every morning I get to start my day off by greeting hundreds of kids. Some get high fives and some get hugs. But one in particular. One precious little six-year-old girl always asks me for a pick up hug. And she expects no ordinary pick up hug.
No, I must hug her, pick her up off the ground and carry her across the cafeteria. Sometimes if she is lucky, I am able to carry her all the way to her classroom. Actually, I think I have that backwards. I am the lucky one on those days.
We have our checklists and we have our observations.
We have our data collection and we have our analyses.
We have our master plans and we have our mission statements.
But we mustn’t ever forget that as powerful as these tools are, they pale in comparison to the power of human connection.
I saw this firsthand the day I finally allowed a small child the opportunity to do what he’d been wanting to do for so long.
Simply stand up and give his father a hug.