Heads Will Roll

I got out of bed to answer the phone. I had to get up anyway, because it was time to take my daughter, Molly, to school. She was having breakfast in the kitchen with our house mate Linda and her son, Tyler. Or so I thought. "Hello Dad," said the early morning caller. "Can I go to Tyler's school today?"

"No, Molly," I replied, figuring her call came from Linda's phone. "You have to go to your own school. And we have to leave soon, because I have an appointment with client right after I drop you off. When you're done with breakfast come get your shoes on." I knew she didn't have her shoes on because her shoes have never been on any morning this year until the last minute before we leave the house.

"Umm, Dad," she stammered, "I'm actually already at Tyler's school."

"WHAT!" I demanded. At first I couldn't decide if I should be more mad at my daughter or at Linda for taking Molly somewhere without checking with me. I quickly determined that Linda, the adult, was the more culpable. What could she have been thinking!

"Why did Linda take you to Tyler's school?" I implored, not imagining any excuse that could get her off the hook. Boy was I going to give Linda a stern message once I got her on the phone.

"Linda didn't know," Molly explained. "I hid in the back seat and Tyler put a blanket over me."

"You stowed away?" I asked, understanding now what had happened. Several times recently I have caught her trying to be a stowaway in a friend's car when I pick her up from school. We laugh after I pretend to be fooled, and then I howl at her to get in the right car. So this time she finally succeeded.

I talk with Linda. She's late for a meeting and can't bring Molly home. But Molly can stay at the school until I arrive. The problem is that Tyler's school is across town and I am never going to get there, then back to Molly's school, and then to my office, in time to meet my client. I try to call my client to say I'll be late, but there is no answer. He must be the last person in Santa Cruz that still doesn't have an answering machine. I throw on my clothes and jump in the car. I've had no breakfast, and I notice in the rear view mirror backing out of my driveway, I didn't shave. By a quick calculation I make based on the time shown on my car clock, I will arrive at my office a half hour late. The client will probably be gone. I feel sure he will think me either wildly incompetent or grossly disrespectful. He will have proof that I really have no business trying to be a professional. How I am going to explain that I, a family therapist, can't even get my daughter to the right school in the morning. I shake my head. "This is silly," I tell myself, "even therapists get to screw up sometimes." I shift from anxiety back to being mad.

"If I were King," I tell the windshield, "Heads would roll for his." I pick Molly up and she is delighted to see me. With her in my arms I explain that her little prank will make me half an hour late for a client. She knows how I feel about this and she is immediately apologetic.

"I'm sorry Daddy. I didn't know you had a client."

She's only six years old. She didn't know Tyler's school was so far. Tyler's in class. He didn't know this would cause a problem. Linda didn't even know Molly was in her car. It dawns on me that I am not a king. No heads are going to roll. Everyone already knows that they should never do this again. The innocence of children leaves me with no recourse for my anger. I kiss Molly on the forehead and drop her off at her school. I'm the one who will pay for her mistake. I guess that is part of being a father, paying for your children's mistakes.

By the time I got to my office, my client had gone. The note on the door said, "Waited twenty minutes. Where are you? Call me." My apology was accepted and we rescheduled the appointment for the following week. In the end, Molly's stowaway caper cost me just one hour of client fees and a frantic hour in morning traffic. I suspect there will be more mistakes in the future, with higher price tags

© 2007, Tim Hartnett

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Your children need your presence more than your presents. - Jesse Jackson

Tim Hartnett, Ph.D. is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in Santa Cruz, CA. He specializes in Individual Counseling, Couples Therapy, and Divorce Mediation. He can be reached at 831.464.2922 or through his website:

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