Parenting with a Story

In his acclaimed book ‘Parenting with a Story’, Scott Smith recounts the experiences shared with him by people, experiences so intensely memorable and personal that their lives were changed thereafter. One of them is Chad Hymas, who tells Scott about a searing lesson in kindness that he got from his father.

At the time when this happened, Chad was a school senior in Salt Lake City, Utah and captain of the basketball team. The night before a big game, he had invited his teammates to dinner at home, talk informally about strategy and fire them up.

As his parents cooked and set the dining table, Chad found the conversation degenerating into gossip. Soon the boys were talking about a ‘special’ girl, one who Chad prefers to call ‘Jenny’. She was smart, had long dark hair and a lovely smile.

“But Jenny also had a number of disabilities. She was confined to a wheelchair and blind in both eyes. She was missing one arm, her other arm and hand had limited functionality. When she ate, she wore a pink bib to protect her clothes from the inevitable spill. She had difficulty with speech, so she carried a computer that could speak for her when she typed out words on an oversized and simplified keyboard. Any one of these challenges could make adequate fodder for cruel teenage jokes. So you can imagine what kind of ridicule her collection of them brought out on that night,” Chad recalls.

But Chad had not reckoned with his father, who knocked on the door, walked in silently and shut off the music. He then dropped to his knees, and said, “I can’t believe what I’ve heard. But it’s not your fault. I’m mostly disappointed in your captain.” After a pause, he continued, “Actually, it’s not even my son’s fault. It’s my fault. I raised him. I owe you all an apology.”

After Chad’s father left the room, his teammates too departed hurriedly, their evening spoilt by guilt and embarrassment. The next day at school, they were at pains not to talk about it, as if the incident had never happened. But at lunch in the school cafeteria, Chad’s father walked in and asked to be taken to the girl. As Chad protested, his father calmly said, “I’m here to teach you how to stand up.”

As the entire cafeteria looked on, Chad’s father went over to the table where Jenny was eating lunch by herself, and gently touched her arm. Chad describes what happened: “Jenny started to shake. But it was clear she wasn’t shaking out of fear, because at the same time she let out a very telling sound that’s difficult to explain. It’s a noise I’ve since come to learn some people make that’s an indication of joy and gratitude. She was actually nervous that someone, anyone, wanted to be next to her and talk to her.”

From Jenny’s painful answers to the questions Chad’s father asked, the boys came to know that her best friend was her mother, she didn’t know who her father was, that she had been in a wheelchair her whole life, and she loved to hear girls cheering the school basketball team! The boys burnt with shame.

Jenny went on to lead the cheerleading team. Her story was lapped up by media. She grew so popular, that as Chad puts it, “They couldn’t make a table big enough for everyone who wanted to sit with Jenny after that.”

And Chad would end up a better human being. All because his father took the time and trouble to make a point about kindness.

the harbinger