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Palm Coast Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011 8 years ago

On face-to-face communication

by: Brian McMillan Executive Editor

In the hour or two between birthday parties for his preschool classmates, my 4-year-old son, Grant, was sluggish. He looked like he could fall asleep right there in front of his bookshelf in his bedroom. Too much cake, too much running around, too much.

I continued trying to pile on the excuses to make myself feel better about skipping the second party — this one at the bowling alley: My 1-year-old wasn’t feeling well. I had just mingled for a few hours with people I didn’t know very well yet. I had to work that night.

But in the end, I decided to take him.

We drove through the rain and arrived a few minutes late. I didn’t know anyone there. But as soon as Grant Velcro’d his size-9 bowling shoes onto the right feet, he met up with his friend, the birthday boy.

They embraced. They looked each other in the eyes and grinned.

“I’m so glad you came!” the other boy said.

“Look!” Grant said, “I got size 9.”

They ran off to explore.

I had only briefly met the other boy — at the first birthday party that morning — but the exchange was so genuine, so unaffected that I immediately understood their relationship and longed for that kind of simplicity to replace the world of adult small talk.

If that kind of frank face-to-face communication occurred more often, we would likely have more successful treaties, more intergovernmental cooperation, more honest business deals, more shared meals, happier marriages. In the adult world, once everyone is wearing dry-clean-only clothes and expensive shoes, for some reason it becomes taboo to say, “I like you.”

On a more personal level, as a father, that simple exchange was priceless. How do you know how your child acts when you’re not around? As a parent, how do you really know if anything you’ve ever taught your child has caught hold?

I saw in this moment that my son had, in previous encounters, acted in such a way as to earn the boyish, friendly love of his classmate, and that he felt strong enough as a person to freely return that love.

Grant’s friend had other people at his party, and they all had a great time nudging the bowling balls down the lanes, wildly celebrating with every knocked-down pin and laughing just as hard when the ball somehow managed to bounce back and forth between the bumpers and still roll into the gutter at the far end.

Before leaving for work, I spent the next hour watching the festivities, making small talk with other friendly adults, reminding Grant not to run around the tables, and gently chiding myself for ever having considering missing it.

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