“I drive-drunk, just being honest,” he said with an unmistakable tinge of pride. Like we should be proud of the guy, you know, because he’s being honest.
The fact this guy had chosen a kids’ party of all places to make this declaration was almost offensive. Given it came the day after the heartbreaking loss of four children in western Sydney at the hands of an alleged drunk driver made it too much to take.
Exactly what he was thinking is a mystery to me. But that’s the thing about kids’ parties. You’re surrounded by people you wouldn’t normally associate with.
The kids run wild, getting sweaty and throwing their hats off with glee – riding high on a collective wave of excitement and a few too many grams of sugar. And surrounded by this unbridled joy, the only protection you’ve got from ignorant statements like the one above is a plate of party pies ready to shove down your throat. Better than biting your tongue.
It’s not so much what he said, or even the way he said it – it’s that it happened at all. It’s the type of thing that the people you choose to have in your life wouldn’t say. A statement so incongruous with your beliefs that you start to hear your heartbeat a little louder and feel it throbbing in your throat. I know I did. And I’d like to think if I heard this kind of thing at work or the pub, I’d call it out.
“Why are you saying that like you’re proud of it? You’re being honest, right? So I have to respect it,” I’d say, my tone thick with sarcasm. And I’d be ready for his response.
But surrounded by kids far too young to understand this kind of thing, not to mention that they’re having so much fun, what am I going to say? Nothing?
And that’s what I did. Nothing. Well, I did eat the pie (and yes, I burned my tongue).
Craving some much-needed respite, I scanned the backyard for my two boys, spotted their red faces grinning broadly and smiled to myself. But my silence didn’t sit right. And it still doesn’t. One of the most important things I want to teach my kids is that you must always, always stand up for what you believe in. If you see something you think is wrong, don’t just stand there, do something. Say something. Don’t complain – fix it.
But I don’t know this guy whatsoever – who knows what his response would be. Never in a million years would I cause a scene at a kids’ party. So what’s the play here? Do you know?
Fast-forward a few years and the kids will surely be able to understand. Would I hold back then? Or would I say something to show them I practise what I preach? When your kids are watching on – soaking up your every word, movement and interaction – do you risk an argument to show them you believe in what you tell them?
If I had my time again, I’d take that risk. Because much like parenting, the answer is never black or white. It’s hidden somewhere in all the millions of shades of grey in between. Too much in this world is seen as two extremes with nothing in between. This is particularly true for men – if we disagree, we fight about it. You know, the lets-sort-this-out-in-the-parking-lot bullshit of yesteryear. I’m guilty of this thinking as much as the next guy. Upon reflection, I realise now that’s why I kept my mouth shut – the fear of causing a real conflict.
But you can show your kids that not only will their dad stand up for what he believes in but he will do it without ranting and raving and without turning to threats or violence. Maybe you can find some common ground with a person you’d never normally get the chance to. Isn’t that the real lesson for your kids? Build bridges not boundaries – more apt now than ever.
Life will always throw up times when you have to get along with someone you don’t want to – just ask anyone who’s worked in an open-plan office. But there must be a happy medium to be found – where you can defend your values and not descend directly into conflict.
And if your kids are watching, like mine were, don’t do what I did and cower. Say something, but when you do, make sure you’re extending your hand – not your fist.