I was at the Kaladi Brothers Coffee Shop the other morning when, while standing in line, I observed a father with his three young sons in the line in ahead of me. The man had his hands full with his three kids. The youngest, an infant, was cradled in his arms while the other two were running around the store chasing each other. I watched entertained as the dad tried to get their drinks ordered and paid for amid his own personal chaos. I watched the two older ones, one blonde, and the other with dark hair, running in between the various people standing in line for coffee. The blonde boy was trying to get a stuffed animal, a penguin, away from his young brother. After several close attempts he got finally got it from his siblings grasp. Clearly he knew was going to happen next as he ran quickly from the scene of his crime. The younger boy immediately began to sob. It was one of those cries that, as a father, you don’t ever want to hear, at least not in public. The boy’s sadness built quickly from a cry and into a full blown screaming fit. It actually hurt to listen to it. The father noticed the commotion and with one hand still on the baby, he quickly grabbed the fluffy penguin from the oldest boy and handed it back to his other son. The screams subsided and the boy wiped his tears on his tattered shirtsleeve. The father gathered up his sons, their drinks, and attempted to find a place to sit down and have their drinks together in some semblance of peace and quiet.
I went along my way, ordering my mocha, and grabbing a newspaper. I said “Hello” to my regular barista, Grace, and I headed over to find a place to sit down for a few minutes. I sat in my regular spot on the other side of the café. I failed to notice the father and his boys leave. Feeling a bit hungry I got up and I worked my way over to the bakery aisle. I was looking for something just right to eat went I spotted a familiar item. On the floor near the baked goods was the little black and white penguin. I picked it up. There were the usual signs of wear and tear, use and love, and it included some unmistakable stains of peanut butter and jelly. I looked around quickly for the father and his boys. They were not in the café. I checked the rest of the store to no avail. I quickly hurried outside to see the father on the other side of the parking lot. He was clearly tired from his last chore of loading all of his energetic boys into their respective seats and he was about to get into the driver’s side of their vehicle as I moved. I ran across the parking lot barely looking for oncoming traffic. I reached the father just as he was about to close the car door.
“I think you forgot one” I said.
The father looked at me and then at the black and white doll in my hand. He closed his eyes, shook his head, and for the first time since I had seen him in the coffee shop, he smiled. He looked back up at me, still smiling.
“Thank you,” he said, “The next few hours would have been incredibly unbearable for me without that.”
I smiled and I handed him back the penguin. I turned and walked back to the coffee shop. As I took a sip of my now cold coffee, I realized that in more ways than I care to admit, I really am a dad.