"There are a lot of people around who can’t wait to tell you what you’ve done wrong, but there aren’t many fathers willing to take the time and effort to help you grow up.” - St. Paul

 

The bell rang as I walked in the door of my local Napa auto parts. The men at the counter glanced in my direction before going back to their customers. I really didn’t want my presence announced today. Sure I was here for car parts, but there was that question I knew was in the back pocket of my heart, and I felt awkward with it sitting there.

 

I got in line. And soon enough the man in front of me said thank you and slid his boxed wares off the counter, and walked off. I was next.

 

How can I help you?” said the clerk, looking above the rim of his bifocals. I stepped forward. “Yeah, I need front and rear struts for my truck.” He turned to his computer screen, “Make and model?” We walked out this conversation as normal, and a minute later he plopped some standard issue struts on the counter in front of me.

 

Anything else for you?

 

I did have that question still. My chest got tight. This was the harder part because to get there I felt I had to commit masculine suicide and admit I didn’t know a thing about replacing struts. I take that back. I’d watched a couple YouTube videos on it. Enough to lead me to believe it was possible for a weekend mechanic to do. But there are somethings you just can’t get from a video.

 

I’ve never replaced struts before. I’ve been wondering if I’m over my head here.

 

He pulled his glasses off. “Oh, it's easy. The hardest part is getting the rusted bolts off the old ones. But after that you're fine.

I felt my chest relax. And so I lobbed him my question, “So you think I can do this?

He did not flinch. He did not wince. He did not pause. “Definitely, man. You can do it. You’ll have no problem.”

My chest warmed. “Okay, thank you. That’s really helpful.”

We settled up on payment. I grabbed my struts and headed out the door, standing an inch taller than before. There was a warmth in my chest where an emptiness had been.

 

It may be strange to think of it this way, but that man was a father to me. That day, for those few minutes, he eased my uncertainty with myself, blessed my strength, and shot me full of courage.

 

And how did he do it? Simply by being kind. Kindness is not just being nice. It has more teeth than that. Kindness pursues, it really listens, gets into the mess with someone, and then offers what seems best. That man waited until I had all I needed.

 

If we are ever going to grow up as men, it will be because we find father’s in many places. Hopefully in our own homes, but elsewhere too. Surrogates you could say. Those who adopt us for a lifetime or just a five-minute conversation in an auto parts store.

 

Here’s to all the generous men who’ve ever been kind to us before. And may we all be kind to the men looking for love.