"I hope you didn't mind," he said to me, his voice soft, his face full of concern.
I told him that I thought he was a good dad and that I wish more parents would do what he did. He responded that he wants to raise all of his children to understand, respect and value those around him. "He is going to live an a very different world than I grew up in. It will be a world where difference is the new normal. I want all my kids to be ready."
Here's what happened:
We pulled into the Duty Free shop just under the Blue Water Bridge, Joe got the chair out and we headed straight for the washroom. Joe had drained his tanks just after filling the cars tank up at the gas station, so once he got me through the door, he went off shopping. A young boy was leaning against the wall, he'd have been about Sadie's age, 3 nearing 4. His dad was standing at the urinal. I rolled up to the accessible toilet and, of course, it was full. Those are the most popular stalls.
I noticed the boy staring at me when I rolled by but, unusually, so did the dad. As he was washing his hands he said to his son, "staring at someone is the same as calling them a name." The boy began to protest that he didn't call a name, "I know you didn't call a name out, but when you stare at someone it's the same thing." The boy again protested, a little less fervently though. "That man in in a wheelchair. That man is big. But that man is doing the same thing as everyone else. There's nothing to see but another person doing what everyone does." This whole thing was explained without anger, without a lecturing tone, Dad's tone was gentle and caring, like he really just wanted his son to understand.
The door to the stall opened. I rolled in. When I came out, of course, everyone was gone. Later in the store as I was picking up a couple of toys that I thought the girls would like, the boy noticed me again. He came over and said, "Are those for your kids?" I told him that they were for two little girls who I know will like them. He nodded. Then he looked at me and smiled. It was, perhaps, the nicest apology I've ever gotten.
On my way out dad stopped me and spoke to me, worried that I might have been offended by what he had said and done.
As we spoke I got the sense that I was talking to a parent who loved being a parent. More than that, I got a sense that he had a vision of the kind of world that we could have if children were gently taught that kindness and welcome were the easiest gifts to give.