I’m the first to admit my propensity to become fascinated with the peculiar, bizarre, and eccentric. I’ve never really figured out why, although I suspect my growing up in San Francisco is widely responsible. I’m drawn to people who are different, unusual, quirky, and perhaps even surprising. Throw in a little kindness and integrity and you’ve got a friend for life. I know this about myself and have learned to embrace it. One interesting aspect about this quality of mine is I don’t experience “shock” easily, that’s to say, it’s a rare moment where disbelief is experienced to the point of speechlessness; quite the contrary. Usually feelings of intrigue, curiosity, and even a need for exploration are at the forefront of my thoughts and drive me to ask lots of questions in hopes of learning about the people, situations, or ideals in play. Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s experience, or maybe I’m just a weirdo, I’m not sure. Nonetheless, it takes a lot to surprise me, but one individual pulled it off recently and I’m here to share.
Last week, a man visited our office who at first glance appeared menacing. He was every bit of 6 feet 4 inches, 250 pounds with a bald head, and from across the street could easily be identified as someone who knows their way around a gym. He was wearing gym shorts and a sleeveless sweatshirt. Covered in tattoos his biceps were roughly the size of my head, and his booming voice and stentorian tones surely gave pause to anyone and everyone who crossed his path. Although we had never met, he was in our reception and specifically requested a moment to speak to me. When I went to greet him I found him anxiously pacing. I’ll be honest, not exactly the most comfortable moment of my day. After inviting this gentleman back to a private room and exchanging pleasantries, he crumbled into his chair and began to tear up.
What did I miss?
The detail not shared with me prior to introducing myself is this man is the father of a 12 year old boy who will be starting VT in our office rather soon. He was there to discuss his son. As the head therapist, it is my job to review each case and determine who among our staff will be the best fit for each patient. Although I work very hard to never judge a book by it’s cover, the determination is usually calculated by adding together the complexity of the case and any outside diagnoses, and dividing by the knowledge and skill levels of our therapists. Sometimes this equation works well. Sometimes we make adjustments a few weeks in. it’s just how it goes. Anyway, this gentleman was interested in ensuring the best choice is made in pairing him with a Vision Therapist, so he stopped by.
We sat and talked for a few minutes. Although I’m there in a professional capacity, these conversations admittedly always bring out the dad in me. I would beg, borrow, or steal for my kids, and not think twice about it. When I encounter other parents working any angle available to help their kids, it brings out every desire within me to assist them. Certainly any parent reading this can understand. Having not met this man’s son to this point (he was tested in our office by another therapist), it was difficult to offer a first hand opinion on who may be best suited to meet his son on a weekly basis. I explained we have several strong people available, all with different strengths and skill sets, but it quickly became apparent this dad needed more than just the canned answer flowing from my mouth. He was not being difficult nor was I being evasive. He was just being a parent, and clearly he wasn’t leaving until those needs were met, which I completely respect. As we worked through different scheduling scenarios with the therapist of choice, this dad continued to repeat his concerns through his tears. His son is diagnosed with high functioning Autism, has only one friend, and often has emotional outbursts if he senses he made a mistake. Dad wants to be sure every activity, every conversation, and ever idea presented is built on positivity and success. It seems simple, and you’re probably thinking we already do that, but this dad needed to be sure.
Sometimes it’s easy to take people at face value. Although I work very hard to not pass judgement on others, I’m the first to admit there’s times I’m guilty of it. When I saw this man in the waiting room, or even as we were talking, it would have been easy to have been a bit dismissive due to his appearance. It would have been easier yet to have someone “take a message” considering how busy we all are. The important part here is that that’s not how it went. Spending four minutes with him was all it took to ensure his comfort level and guaranteed his son’s entire VT program will be smoother because of it. Walking away, my only thought was if the situation was reversed and I needed to discuss my son, if for no other reason that my peace of mind, I would hope someone would listen, too.
So much of what we do is about taking the time to listen. To be good in the therapy room, people need to know how much you care. People need to know you’re engaged. People need to know their needs, and the needs of their children, are all that matters when they’re in the office.
I was reminded of that affirmation recently.
All I had to do was listen.