The other day I stopped into a big truck stop to take a break from a long drive. I sat down in a booth, surrounded by people enjoying those giant pizza slices truck stops always sell.
A man sat in the booth next to me. He was far from old, but was no longer young. He looked tired. He poked at his cell phone for a moment, and his face lit up when a woman’s voice started to speak. He watched the screen—a video chat—and with the sound up it was impossible to avoid hearing the conversation.
He said a quick hello, then asked for Tommy. The familiarity in his voice made it clear that Tommy was their son.
But things didn’t go well. Tommy was crying.
“Hey Tommy? What’s the matter bud? Why are you crying?
“You said you’d be home tonight.”
“I know, but I blew a tire here in Salt Lake and it’s getting fixed.”
“But you said you’d be home tonight.” Tommy sounded like he was about six. He was one sad little munchkin.
“I know, and I’m trying hard. But it might be tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” A new wail.
“Yeah, but it’s just tomorrow. And then we’ll have fun.”
“What kind of fun?”
“What do you want to do?”
The tears slowed down to a sniffle. “I don’t know.”
“Want to go fishing?”
“Great. Tomorrow we’ll go fishing. You and me. Okay?”
“Okay.” The briefest pause. “Really?”
“Really. You and me. Now put your mom on, okay bud?”
The video screen went off, and the conversation became one-sided.
“I know. I know. But there’s all kinds of crap here. The delivery wasn’t right, the tire blew, it’s a mess.”
A pause. “I know,” he said and I could tell the frustration was pushing him close to tears.
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’ll get home tomorrow.”
“Look, I know I promised, and it’ll happen, but maybe you should have a plan B ready in case this drags out.”
“I don’t know what to tell you, babe. I’m doing the best I can. I’m sorry.”
“Okay, love you, bye.”
The man sat perfectly still for about a minute, then got himself up with a shove and walked tiredly away.
I’ve never been a truck driver, but I could empathize, and I bet you can too. We move from being carefree kids, to snarky teenagers, then overconfident young adults. Eventually we grow up, accept our responsibilities and get on with it. Our kids hate it when we’re not there, but it happens. And when it happens, if we’re doing this parenthood thing right, we’re doing it for them.
As parents, do we ever have a lousier deal than when we have to disappoint our kids in order to fulfill our obligations to them?
Sure, kids are resilient. Personally, I think there’s an added measure of grace that attends single parent families, where young children have to learn too early that the source of all their security and love isn’t going to be available as often as they’d like, or need.
But whether there are two parents or one, the daily stress of living in a difficult world will regularly test the limits of a family’s love.
We all hope that when we have to make a decision we can choose between the best of good options. But far too often we’re forced into deciding which is the least bad of several lousy choices.
I hope that somewhere there’s eventual recompense to our loved ones who are the occasional collateral damage to the hard choices we must sometimes make on their behalf.
Did our truck driver make it home the next day? I have no idea. But I really, really hope so. Just like you and I, he certainly deserved it.