From Chicken Soup for the Father & Son Soul

First, a Father

Robert looked like a mountain man—big, with long hair and a bushy beard. He had gang-type tattoos around his wrist where a watchband would have rested had he been an office worker. He would look equally at home sitting on a rumbling Harley or in the backwoods wrestling a bear. Robert was not a man you would thump on the back of the head to see what happens.

He looked like a man who thrived on intimidation. Big across the shoulders and with muscular arms, he could have been a lumberjack. We were all surprised when he introduced himself as Robert, since our natural assumption was that he would proudly wear a “tag”—something like Crusher or Brutus the Leg-Breaker.

Robert was also a father of two boys in our church youth group and was eager to be a leader. As desperate as we were for adult volunteers, his desire to help sparked a fire of panic. Like all organizations that work with children, our church has a series of hurdles and verifications—mountains of forms—that adults must endure prior to being authorized. In this particular case, I was confident that the background check would be our nice way of denying Robert’s participation without the current leaders being the bad guys.

“Oh, something didn’t check in the background, Robert. You know how our investigators are,” I was planning to say. “All it takes is some tiny little hiccup.”

So there we sat, with me asking questions for the form, and he shyly answering. I suddenly realized that his eyes gave him away. His bulk and shaggy appearance flashed threat, but his eyes were warm and his voice gentle. He was a father wanting to help his two sons.

“And what do you do for a living?” I asked, my pencil poised.

“I buy drugs,” he said.

“Oooookaaaaaaay,” I said very slowly, as I wondered what the bored clerk in the back office would think as she processed my form. Well, at least he understood what the pastor had been teaching the boys about being trustworthy. He didn’t lie.

I paused, not sure what to write or even say. That’s when he laughed.

“I’m on the police force. I’m an undercover cop. Narc squad.”

When you deal with the underworld, you don’t arrive to work looking like a banker. His survival depended on making them believe in something he wasn’t. I printed “Police Officer” in the little box and confidently forwarded the form knowing that he would add an interesting twist to our leadership team. Months later he was transferred to a more traditional police role and his hard edge softened considerably. Robert is a perfect example of why we need to slow down before jumping to conclusions.

David Wilkins

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