54: Oscar Meyer and the Boy at the Mall

Several years ago I was sitting in the food court in the mall in Ft. Collins, CO when I happened to observe a teenage boy walk up to his dad and give him a big hug. I didn’t know either of them, but it seemed like they were being reunited after a period of absence. I started wondering if they had just split up for a little while to shop, if mom and dad were divorced, and dad was getting his turn with his son, or if perhaps dad had just come back from a business trip.

I suppose the boy was about 13 or 14. At the time I didn’t have any kids even close to that age, but I knew that hugging dad in the mall was not cool. A typical kid that age walks ten feet behind his parents and ducks into a store if they stop to wait up for him. Not only does he not want to be seen with his parents, but he’s embarrassed at the notion that he even has parents. I think this is a well-documented phase of teenage development. In fact, one of my favorite parenting stories is when columnist Dave Barry pulled up in front of his son’s middle school in the Oscar Meyer Weiner Mobile. After tiring of his son’s parental-embarrassment-for-no-good-reason attitude, he decided to give his son a good reason to be embarrassed, and over the vehicle’s loud speaker called out, “Joshua Barry, please report to the Weiner Mobile.” Isn’t that great? If my son ever treated me in that I’m-so-embarrassed-you’re-my-dad manner, you can be sure I’d find a creative way to put him in his place.

Anyway, I digress. The point is that this boy was not that way. He ran up to dad and, in complete joy, squeezed him tight as if they were meeting for the first time.

I’m not sure what this dad’s secret to success was, but he had definitely grabbed his child’s heart, and his son esteemed him like no other. Most people in the mall that day probably never had a second thought about the incident, but I immediately knew that that was the type of relationship I wanted with my son.

With that in mind, I’ve continually tried to build into my children in every way that I can, because to be honest with you, I think it will be easier to grab my children’s hearts now, than to get my hands on an Oscar Meyer Weiner Mobile.

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