He asked, “Is there anyone sitting here?” The place was packed, that’s why I was sitting on a barstool at O’Hara airport, badly needing food. No tables. I saw the previous patron beside me had left upon my arrival. I said to the well-built young man, “It’s all yours!”
The waitress came by and asked, “What can I get ya, honey?” Yes, she used words like honey, dear and darling for everyone. Me too! It must be american-speak for sir or ma’am. He wanted a Miller Light. He didn’t look too happy. “What’s the matter dear,” she asked instinctively? His flight had been canceled because of the snowstorm the previous night. And he waited crazy hours in line just to find out that he’d be spending another day in Chicago.
“Ya, it was the worst November storm in 120 years,” I chirped in!
“Ya, it #*%! sucks.” It really wasn’t his day because his afternoon flight had been now delayed too.
He looked at me and after a big swig smiled and spit out a, “Man you’ve got the coolest mustache I’ve ever seen!”
I laughed. “Where ya headin?”
“Japan, going back to the base.”
“You in the U.S Army?”
“Ah, life on big boats! You get to go down in the subs too?”
“No, thankfully never, can’t stand small spaces. And I hate flying in these little planes. Gotta get boozed up so I can sleep the trip away.” He added a few choice words to describe flying that I can’t write here!
I asked, “Are you of Japanese descent?” For some reason I always enjoy guessing where people are from, but to be honest he didn’t look Japanese. But you never know. “No, I am part Native and part Mexican. Been in the Navy for about seven years! You?”
I answered, “It’s crazy but I was born in Holland and grew up in Canada, though I Lived in Asia for 22 years and now I’m in Paris.”
“Holy ______ Must be nice!”
Everyone seems to think Paris is paradise!
“Ya, it’s okay, but Japan is pretty awesome too! You must like it?”
He said the people were really nice. But he loved Thailand and rhymed off some places he had been, “Pattaya and Phuket.”
Hmmm, I thought, not the most fond of Pattaya, for obvious reasons, but I told him about my love for Thailand, especially the kids.
“Thai kids are so beautiful. I used to raise funds to help kids to get an education. I chaired a board for a charity helping kids born with HIV. I’ve held dying kids in my arms, it changes you. You know kids are the best!”
He said he agreed. Then he added that his own kids and him were going through some challenges. navy life is demanding, but he needed 13 more years total to get a good pension. “I’ll be 39 when I get out!”
“That’s so young to retire!”
“So true, I’ll need to find another job. But the real reason I got to quit, though, is because I don’t know my kids. I am almost never around.”
We talked about family for ten minutes. I told him about mine; five kids! He told me about his three. Two boys and a girl. We both agreed that raising girls was a bit easier for dads! But it takes a lot of discipline to say no to daughters!
Then he looked me in the eye and sadly said, “The reason why I need to go to Japan is that I got a phone call about my son. He’s hearing #@*# voices. He’s all depressed. He needs to go to this special place in Hawaii and get some help. I don’t know what to do!”
I looked at my watch and saw I had to go board my flight. But there was something more I needed to say, to do.
“You know, I don’t think this chair opened up beside me by chance. And I so know that feeling of being a father and thinking ‘how bad of one I am’. But somehow there’s another father I know of who is pretty good at what he does. He’s helped me a lot over the years. And I’d love to be able to ask him to help you in your relationship with your son. You mind if I pray for you?”
He grabbed my hand instinctively and I prayed. I prayed to a faithful Father who knew how broken we, all of us, are. How we feel like crap at times because we just don’t measure up on being fathers. I asked for a real new connection between my new friend and his oldest boy. That kind of stuff and I meant it all!
When I said amen he squeezed my hand tight in his big hand and made the sign of the cross.
“Thanks man, appreciate it. Have a good trip to Paris. I am jealous!”
“You should be!” I laughed.
Fist pumps. Brothers.
I wonder how he’s doing with his boy?