He was a big burly dad that looked forbidding. She was a skinny 14-year-old that had been assigned to referee a soccer game for 9- and 10-year-old boys. I was there to watch my son's soccer game.
I knew this guy from our school days. He was a year younger than me, but even in elementary school he was taller and beefier than most boys that were two or three years his senior. He had a reputation as someone you didn't want to mess with. The way his brow was formed gave him a naturally menacing appearance.
Then our kids started playing on the same soccer team. I discovered that he had mellowed significantly from days of yore. He was a caring dad that doted on his children.
I can't remember what upset him about the referee's call. But it was clear that he felt that his son had been unfairly treated. I can remember thinking that this kind of thing happens dozens of times every Saturday morning on soccer fields around the area. People might blow off a little steam, but then the game (and life) goes on.
This fellow, however, began engaging in the kind of unsportsmanlike behavior that gives parent spectators a bad reputation. Parents occasionally get so emotionally involved in a game that they make a scene and ruin the game for the kids and for the other spectators. It was clear that this man had crossed that line.
The referee stopped the game and told the dad that he was ejected from the game and had to leave the field. The dad sat back down in his lawn chair and refused to leave, acting as if his behavior had been warranted. She said that the game would not resume until he completely left the park. He refused to budge.
The referee called both coaches over and showed them a page in a small booklet. She then announced to everyone that if the offending parent did not leave the field within three minutes the game would be cancelled and the team to which the offending parent's child belonged would forfeit the game. Parents around the man began to encourage him to accept the ruling.
Pressure was building as the man sat there while the referee watched her wristwatch. Finally he stood up, but instead of moving off the field he began stalking toward the referee. The closer he came the more she looked like a skinny little kid. It truly looked like a Davis vs. Goliath setting.
Some of the other dads jumped up and ran onto the field to prevent what appeared to be an impending assault. When they tried to stop the man, he insisted that he just wanted to talk to referee. The look on his face appeared to say something else. So the dads stayed right with him, ready to intervene.
The big man stopped short of the referee. He appeared to be weighing his options. Despite how quiet the field had become under the tense situation, the man said something to the referee so quietly that I could not hear him. But the other dads that were standing nearby appeared to relax somewhat.
Then man then called his son over. He got down on one knee so that he was eye level. He spoke briefly with his son. Then he stalked back to his lawn chair, quickly folded it, and carried it over the hill to the parking lot.
As the dads returned to their seats and the referee called for the game to resume, one of the dads explained to us that the man had first apologized to the referee for his behavior. He had then apologized to his son for behaving badly, before obeying the referee's order to leave.
I marveled at the courage of a young teen girl to stand up to a man that appeared large, intimidating, and dangerous. When I later spoke with the girl's father, he said that she told him that she had been quaking in her shoes and feeling almost ready to faint. But she had stood her ground and had done her duty admirably.
I also wondered at the courage of a man that had earlier in life had a habit of using his looks and size to intimidate others. He had realized his mistake and he loved his son enough that he didn't want his son to think that such behavior was ever the best way to accomplish anything positive. He was a big man. He had acted like a jerk. But he never stood taller in my eyes than when he quietly slunk off the soccer field that day.