By the time I settled into my seat, my flight had already been delayed twice. I took a deep breath, trying hard not to notice that if my flight had left on time, I’d be home hugging my kids by now.
It’s OK. I had an awesome two-day getaway with some fellow dads. This was the price: four flights in 48 hours. I was at peak exhaustion now, peak frustration. Maybe even peak hangover.
Then I saw the crew who would be sitting behind me.
As a father of three, I’m sympathetic to the perils of those traveling with young kids, especially on a plane. My wife and I took three children from Cincinnati to Honolulu, after all. A long day of air travel with kids is a grind. People aren’t always nice, and kids, well, they’re kids. That why when a family with two kids, roughly 4 and 6 years of age, occupied the seats behind me, I didn’t really think too much of it. I had seen this group in the terminal, and they all seemed perfectly reasonable.
Yeah … about that.
Humans aren’t really meant to jam themselves shoulder to shoulder in a thin, metal tube and be hurtled through the atmosphere via flame and thrust. Adults accept this as part of modern life. Kids aren’t so enlightened. Therefore, they intuitively know, deep down in their DNA, when the door of a plane closes, it’s time to freak the hell out.
Getting their kicks
First, I began to feel a lot of pressure in my lower back. I tried to convince myself I was in an experimental massage chair, but the 6-year-old girl behind me was just kicking my seat. It was firm. Inconsistent. Sometimes violent.
I patiently waited for one of the adults to ask her to stop. Surely these reasonable parents would notice the constant pounding on the back of my seat, and surely (don’t call me Shirley!) they are the type of reasonable parents who don’t want their kids annoying passengers on a full flight. I mean, that’s what you’d do, right? Right!?
Yeah … about that.
Even after I made eye contact with the dad, the kicking continued. My eyes clearly but silently said, “Hey man, I get it. This sucks. I’ve been there, and I feel your frustration, but could you please ask your kid to stop kicking my seat?” OK — an objective reading of my mask-covered face would probably read more like, “If your kid keeps kicking my seat, we may need an air marshal. Or a parachute. Possibly both.”
With the comedy of Bill Burr in my headphones, I decided to let his voice take me away from the constant pounding on my lower back. I turned the volume of the Netflix comedy special up to drown out the bickering and screaming.
What I really couldn’t handle, though — the silence of the parents. I accept that kids can be a handful, but permissive parents set my blood to boil. The only thing keeping me from letting these two know how I felt about their parenting style was the awareness of being trapped on a plane in a time of great tension and unruly plane passengers. As much as I think my handsome face deserves 15 minutes of fame, I really didn’t want it to be via a mugshot after I being forcibly removed from an airplane. All I could think about was Ben Stiller finally cracking in Meet The Parents, and shouting, “Bomb, bomb, bombity bomb bomb!”
When the plane landed, things got real serious
The 4-year-old boy got physical. He thrashed and kicked. He reached up to hit the flight attendant call button. Sometimes he was in the aisle next to me, his head and legs crashing into me and other passengers. Again, the parents did not intervene.
He started screaming and yelling, pushing against the immovable line of people in front, spinning around and bashing his backpack against everyone and everything. At this point the parents finally tried to stop him. His resistance increased.
Deplaning flight a real pain in the …
The dad asked the mom to control the kid, and the mom calmly explained that if she physically restrained him, things would get worse. She was right, of course, but we had all had it by then. There was no sympathy to be found. After this kid shoved his head straight up my ass, pushing me forward while providing a complimentary rectal exam, I finally let out, “C’mon!? Geeez!”
Yeah, I know. Not much of an outburst in the grand scheme of things. But the defeated look in the eyes of his parents immediately made me regret my outburst.
Eventually we cleared out. And, naturally, I found myself right next to the dad on the tram connecting the gates to the terminal. We made eye contact, but he looked away. At this point, in empathy, I should’ve apologized. I should’ve offered words of encouragement to my fellow dad.
Yeah … about that.
I didn’t say anything. That I regret. I should have said, “Well, that was fun, but it’s over now.” Anything. Just some words to diffuse the tension. Just some words to make him feel like he wasn’t a failure, that we all didn’t hate him, and that other parents felt empathy and not judgment. Instead, I stood there, silently, with angry, judgmental eyes.
This man didn’t curse at his kids. He didn’t raise his hand with a threat of violence. No “I’ll beat your ass, when you get home.” Isn’t that a victory that should be celebrated?
In a world of anger and violence, these parents did their best to keep their kids as calm as possible. Sure, I was annoyed, and I didn’t agree with their methods, but who am I to decide for another dad how he should treat his kids? If I’m honest, my kids are great most of the time, but every now and then they are soul-crushing monsters who listen to nothing but the wild adolescent voices in their heads. In those moments I encourage you to offer empathy, kindness, grace. Maybe even a beer, Remind your fellow dads, fellow parents and fellow humans that we really are in this together. And maybe, just maybe we’ll change the world.
And maybe, just maybe, next time I’ll climb over my seat and start kicking that little girl’s seat until she learns a valuable lesson.
Just kidding. But keep a lookout for my mug shot — just in case.