My two-year old son, Decker, watches the world around him, intently. The constant challenge of keeping up with his six-year old brother, Cooper, helps drive him to try new things, ask good questions, and generally seem way more grown up than his brother was at this age. Decker’s developed this funny way of asking the question, “Who’s that guy?” He says it fast, almost with all the words blended together, and usually at times that seem totally inappropriate. As the UPS delivery man hands me a package at the door . . . Decker inquires, “Who’s that guy?” When the butcher hands me our order . . . Decker wants to know, “Who’s that guy?” When a random, seemingly down-on-his-luck, not so clean man sits down near us at the park . . . Decker’s quick to ask, “Who’s that guy?”
The UPS delivery man and the butcher are easy to resolve. “Deck, that’s the UPS man, he drives that cool delivery truck and brings boxes to the people. Look he brought another box for Mom from Target!” Fielding the butcher question is also a breeze. “Decker, that’s the butcher. He works hard to cut up the meat and gives us our food to eat for dinner. Should we get some chicken?”
But I have found myself, to my embarrassment, stumbling over my words trying to answer the question when the subjects less cleanly fit in a box. “Decker, that’s a homeless . . . I mean, he’s a, like the, I think he’s . . . Deck, I’m not sure, maybe he’s one of the kids’ grandpas. Let’s go on the swings.” After the fact, I’m able to compose an answer in my own mind that I would have been much prouder to share with my curious son. I wish I would have been able to reserve judgement and see the warmth in the man’s eyes and human spirit in his face and Blackhawks emblem on his sweatshirt. I wish I would have said, “Deck, I think he’s a nice man who must really like watching the squirrels play at the park . . . and I think he’s a Hawks fan like us! Have a great day sir, we’re off to play on the swings.”
I don’t imagine that Decker’s going to get less interested in the world and the people around him. There are plenty of folks out there who look different, or act different, or say different things. In theory, these differences should make us all better, stronger, more balanced. I hope that I am able to generate reasonable answers that best highlight and value the diversity of the people we meet. I hope I’m sufficiently able to reserve judgment and describe character, not color or creed or handicap or economic status. Decker will either learn to lump people into superficial categories that fail to scratch the surface when addressing “Who’s that guy?” or he’ll collect experiences and examples and answers that reinforce that the heart and soul of the people we encounter is what matters most. He’s only two, so I’m confident my stammering and lack of good answers to some very reasonable questions hasn’t ruined him yet!
As you find yourself explaining the world to your kid, or simply processing your interactions with the people you meet throughout your day, challenge yourself to develop a richer, deeper, character-based answer to the question, “Who’s that guy?” And ALWAYS say, “Who’s that guy?” in a really fast, deeply serious, two-year old voice. It’ll make you smile.