Sometimes things are communicated in a non-verbal manner that transcend verbal communication. Things such as body language and silent actions can often express more than words.
A few years ago I observed a father and son in a pharmacy. What I witnessed had a lasting impact on me. A simple act of service performed by the son revealed a portion of his nature, but it spoke volumes about his father.
What I took away from the “incident at a pharmacy” was that when love is expressed consistently over a period of time, it is returned naturally and consistently without seeming forced or artificial.
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Incident At a Pharmacy
It is 8:30 pm on a weeknight. A few hours earlier, as I was taking my cholesterol medication, I noticed I was down to my last pill. So I am now on my way to the neighborhood pharmacy for a refill.
As I pull into the pharmacy’s nearly deserted parking lot I am reminded of the lateness of the hour: it is almost nine o’clock, the store’s closing time. And confirming what a minute earlier the sparsely occupied parking lot suggested, there are only a few customers inside the store: a woman in her sixties looking at greeting cards, a boy lost in a car racing magazine, a harried looking young man buying diapers and baby formula.
And, talking to the pharmacist at the counter, there is a man, forty-something, his body grudgingly in the process of giving way to middle age stockiness, his scalp shining through thinning brownish grey hair. Next to him is a younger version of himself—some twenty-years younger. The young man exhibits one of the most prevalent of growing pains—a few pesky pimples—and has the slender, lanky build of an active, athletic teenager. He has a full head of dark, chocolate colored hair.
But it is the similarity of facial features—sunken, sensitive eyes; square, jutting chins; broad foreheads—that leaves no question that the two individuals are father and son.
Then I notice something else about the pair: both their shoulders are slightly drooping and they both look a little apprehensive.
The pharmacist returns to the counter holding a small, amber colored bottle of pills.
“So have you taken this kind of medication before?” he asks the man.
“So I take it you’ve just been diagnosed with heart problems.”
“Yeah, I just found out today at the doctor’s.”
The pharmacist goes on to explain possible side effects of the medication. The man nods his head at various times during the recitation of side effects. The son listens attentively, with a look of growing concern. The pharmacist concludes with a stern warning that scheduled doses should never be missed.
The man writes out a check and takes the bottle handed him.
The pharmacist says, “Good luck…”
“Thanks.” The man and his son walk away from the counter.
I step up and give the pharmacist my bottle. He says it will be just a few minutes.
As I stand there waiting I notice that the father and son have not walked very far from the pharmacist’s counter. They are over by a machine that—as a free service provided by the pharmacy—takes your blood pressure while you sit with your arm in a cuff.
The father, apparently unfamiliar with the device, reads some posted instructions, then sits and puts his arm in the cuff. The son stands directly behind his father. I am close enough to hear the cuff begin expanding with air—I hear the hum of the air pump and the soft crackle of the cuff’s plastic as it expands.
Then without a word, the son gently puts his hands on his father’s back and begins massaging the man’s tired shoulders. Both their faces—reflecting anxiety and fatigue—are solemn, strained. As the wholly unsolicited back rub continues, no words pass between them. No words are necessary.
It is clear that the young man is a good son, a son who loves his father, and dreads the unthinkable prospect of his father one day not being around.
I continue watching the father and son, and still no words are spoken between them. The son merely proceeds to rub a little below the shoulders—careful not to jostle the arm in the cuff. And while this simple act gives me an insight into the son, it reveals volumes about the father.
It reveals a man whose daily interaction with his family—specifically his son—has engendered both fierce loyalty and tender affection.
In my mind I see a father who has always been there for his son—cheering him on at games, giving him advice about girls, teaching him how to drive.
I see a father who has taken the time to teach his son how to worm-bait a hook, throw a fast ball, navigate a bike without training wheels, and tie a Windsor knot.
This is a man who has not demanded respect, but rather earned it; who has taught by example, not merely by words; who has passed values on to his son by living those values.
This is not a perfect man. This is a man given to occasional grumpiness; a man who sometimes exhibits lapses in judgment—like the time he took a “sure-fire“ short cut to Disneyland that took them instead to the Hollywood Bowl.
But this is a man who apologizes when apologies are appropriate, who is capable of admitting mistakes, and who, while quick in administering punishment for any major infraction, is just as quick to forgive the offender.
And I can see that the son, now gently kneading his father’s neck muscles, is not ready to say goodbye to his teacher and friend. I envision the son double checking to see that his father takes his medication on schedule. I imagine the son mildly scolding his father for straying from his newly imposed diet.
And as I look at the father, I see a man who wants to be there when his son falls in love—really falls in love; a man who wants to be there to see his son’s first child born; and a man wants to be there—now as a fellow adult, a friendly equal—not only to delight in seeing his son achieve his goals, but to help his son deal with the disappointments, the setbacks and disillusionments that will inevitably come.
The mention of my name startles me. A slight involuntarily jerk runs through my body (which I hope is not noticeable) and I turn towards the pharmacist who, beckoning me to the counter, is holding a bottle full of my cholesterol pills.
I pay for the pills and look one last time over at the father and son. The father is now rising up from the machine. He smiles at the son as if to say “Thank you.” The son responds with a shy, hopeful smile.
As I drive home in the darkness I can’t stop thinking about the pair. Unaware that they were being observed, they have no way of knowing how they have affected me.
And as I pull in my driveway, in my mind I see an image of the man and think to myself I want to be the kind of father he is…
–John Starley Allen