When I was a kid one of the things that I always looked forward to was going to get my haircut with my dad. Our tiny, little town still had a traditional, old school barber shop complete with the red, white, and blue rotating sign out front and the smell of butch wax permeating the room. Once a month or so, my dad and I would go sit with the other guys in the shop, talk about fishing and sports, and watch the Cubs game while we waited to get our haircuts. As a young boy of 8 or 9 years old, getting treated like an adult and spending time talking with “the guys” was something that I always enjoyed and looked forward to doing. As much as I cherish these moments and remember them fondly, there is one day in particular that will always stand out from all of the others.
I was 12 years old, and my father and I were going to get our haircut one gloomy, drizzly day in September. There was about a 30 minute wait when we got there, which was fine by me because it meant more male bonding time with my dad. After watching the baseball game, talking about how we caught a fish “this big,” and getting our haircuts, we put on our coats to brave the damp weather outside and head home. I went out first while my dad paid, and wheeled around to the far side of the van where I waited for my father to come open up the lift and load me up. The next thing I know as I sat there in the dank mist though, my dad gets in the van, starts it up, and starts driving away. As I watched him go down the block, smelling his exhaust, I thought to myself, “Very funny, dad. Let’s make Scott think we left him at the barber shop. You are hilarious.” I continued watching him drive, thinking he would get to the end of the block, stop, turn around, and come back to get me with a laugh. He did stop at the stop sign at the end of the block, but he didn’t turn. Instead, he kept going straight towards home. I kept watching the tail lights get smaller and smaller as I thought, “Ok. I get it, dad. Haha. It’s cold and rainy though, so that is enough. Turn around and come get me.” Once the van disappeared around the curve to get to my house, I finally realized the truth of my situation, “My own father just forgot me at the barber shop.”
As I stared down the road watching the “Drotarcade” vanish around the corner, my mind went blank for a few seconds. I just sat in my wheelchair in that parking lot getting more and more soaked from the cold drizzle, completely dumbfounded by what had just happened. I didn’t panic though, fortunately. There was a supermarket right next door to
the barber shop that had automatic doors, so I went in there to get out of the cold rain. Since this was in the pre cell phone days, I went up to a cashier that was not busy and asked if I could use the phone. She initially looked like she was going to say no, but I played the “wheelchair card,” and she handed me the phone. I put the phone to my ear, and after dialing my home number, I heard the taunting beeps of a busy signal laughing at me. I figured my sister must have been downloading songs off of Napster, which back in the days of dial-up internet, meant no phone calls were going through for a while. Still, I kept my cool and didn’t let panic set in. I decided that chances were that once he got home and went to unload me, that he would see an empty van, realize that he had abandoned his handicapped, first born son in the rain, and return to get me. So, I bought a Hershey’s chocolate bar and went over to the door by the parking lot to wait. After about 10 minutes of waiting, I see my van pull up, and who do I see getting out of the driver side door, but my mom. We returned home, and the whole family had a good laugh at my father’s expense for forgetting his first born son at the barber shop.
This memory is not only one that I remember fondly because of my getting to bond at the barber shop or because it is one of those humorous, family stories that never gets old no matter how many times you tell it, but it also is a powerful reminder of the importance of keeping your cool in difficult situations. As I was watching my father drive off without me, I could have let negative feelings and thoughts like, “My dad abandoned me in the rain, and now I will never get home.” bully their way into my head. This would have put me into a reactionary, fight-or-flight type mindset, and I would have lost my ability to plan ahead and think objectively. Chances are I would have either just sat huddled up in that parking lot getting soaked, or worse yet think that the only way I was ever getting home was by rolling there through the rain in my wheelchair. Either way, I end up worse off and very wet. By keeping my cool and avoiding the urge to panic, I was able to see the situation as it actually was. I was able to reason out that my father had not abandoned me purposely, and that before long someone would be back to get me. I also had the mental awareness to remember that there were automatic doors at the supermarket and to ask to use the phone. By keeping my wits about me, I was able to get through this difficult situation relatively dry with candy in my belly and a big laugh when I got home.
This ability to keep your cool and not overreact in difficult circumstances, is a skill that can be extremely valuable throughout your life. Be it at the negotiating table, in your office, or in your own home you will have to get through situations where your first, gut reaction will be to panic. If you give in to these negative feelings, you lose your ability to think about and plan your actions and become purely reactionary. The situation is now in control of your behavior. If you fight this primal response and keep your head however, you maintain your rational, thinking mind. You retain your ability to plan your actions and think long-term, and in doing so you can use your behavior to control your situation, as unpleasant as it may be. How you choose to react to trying circumstances determines whether you control your situation or your situation controls you. Why would you want to give up your power, your autonomy, your control over your behavior, especially at the times when you need it the most?