Stealing Smiles

A few years ago, I went to Washington D.C. with some friends to join the annual March for Life. My memory of that trip is sort of a blur of activity, but a few things stand out. Two of them:
1. COLD. So. Cold. But, hand and foot warmers are the bees’ knees, you guys.
2. After one particularly late event, my friends and I found ourselves huddled in a burger shop somewhere deep within the metro/mall thingy that I can’t remember the name of, sometime after midnight. 
Why is that relevant? Because out of the swarms of people I saw in those three days, I remember that waitress. And that waitress was C.R.A.N.K.Y. Her crankiness was making other people cranky. It didn’t take long to notice some of the other tables being pretty rude in response to her rudeness, and vice versa. Not that anyone is just super peppy in the middle of the night, but really, it was getting kinda ugly. So I started being SUPER charming and nice, joking with her, thanking her, until eventually she would crack a smile every time she walked over to our table. People, it was practically a small miracle. I was so satisfied with myself over this success, I couldn’t stop grinning, until one of my friends finally demanded, “What’s so funny?” 
“Oh,” I shrugged, smirking, “Just stealing smiles.” 
Like my dad.
I don’t know what he calls it, this thing he does, but in my head I call it “stealing smiles.”
My Dad, he is a charmer. He’s a real charmer. And as absolutely far back as I can remember, in all my advanced 25 years of life, he has done this thing. 
Waiters, waitresses, cashiers in Wal-Mart, the guy selling newspapers on the corner…my Dad sees them. He finds out their names and uses their names. He asks them how they are, and listens, He jokes with them until they cheer up. He thanks them for offering their service and tells them he appreciates them. He sees them. And, being seen, they change. 
They go from struggling through their day, feeling lonely, feeling invisible, to being known, even a little bit. 
When I was little, I thought it was like this magical thing that Dad did. He could steal smiles from even the most unwilling smiler.
Being older, I am positive, it IS like this magical thing Dad does. He can ALWAYS steal smiles from even the most unwilling smiler.
And I get a real kick out of trying to do it myself. I don’t know anybody who does it like him, but I love trying. I’ve had conversations with my sisters, while we’re out, and one of us does this, and we’ll look at each other and say, “That’s what Dad would have done!” 
Sometimes it doesn’t work for us. I remember at least once where we shrugged on our way out of a store after an unsuccesful attempt at smile-snatching and said, “Well, I bet DAD could have gotten them to smile.”
There’s something very consoling about that: Dad could have made it better. Dad could fix it. Just knowing he could fix it practically fixes it. 
There are lots of things I love about my own Daddy. 
I love that he’s practical. And I really do actually like this – I like that I can go to him with an emotional trainwreck of a situation and he will very calmly sort it out, and it will all make sense later on.
I love that he taught us to Take. Care. Of. Mom. If Mama ain’t sittin’ down, ain’t nobody sittin’ down. If Mama’s still up working you better bet your as-yet-unspanked-bottom (Kidding! but also, not) should be up working to. When Mama says dinner is ready you better show respect for her hard work cooking and get your self to the table PRONTO. If Mama is doing laundry…wait, why is your Mama doing laundry?!? 
I love that.
I love that my Daddy taught us to be activists. And HOW to be activists. Some of my best lines when I teach other people how to sidewalk counsel come from my Dad: “It’s good to have a sense of urgency. Just don’t be frantic.” (I’m not sure he even knows I got that from him, but I did. I definitely did.)
I love that he taught us how to be the kind of kids he wanted to have. I’ve had friends complain their parents pressured them into certain colleges or careers. My dad never pressured me into anything like that. He would just tell us it’s not about whether you finish college or not – it’s about trying to be ready and available to do what God is calling you to do.
There are lots of things I love about my Daddy. Stealing smiles is just one of my favorites.

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