One evening when my kids were still in grade school we were kicking the soccer ball around at Freedom Park waiting for practice to start. To make it a little more interesting, I had gone into the back of our minivan looking for our portable goal and was digging through all the junk in there when a woman walked up to me with two small boys in tow.
“I’m very sorry, but I need a favor,” she said hurriedly.
“Sure, what can I do?” I responded.
“Can you watch the little one here until his soccer practice starts?” She said pointing at the smaller boy. “I’ve got to get his brother all the way over to Randolph Road for baseball practice and I can’t do both.”
“OK, what field is he on?” I asked, gesturing over my shoulder to the eight soccer fields at Freedom.
“I don’t know, but he’ll recognize his coach.” She said. And with that, she rushed off towards her SUV with her older son.
“What’s your name?” I asked the boy she’d left behind. He looked to be about eight.
“Tommy,” he answered.
“Well Tommy, these are my three daughters. Do you want to kick the ball around with us until practice starts?”
“Sure,” Tommy said. And he did. Eventually, his coach showed up and he ran off to join his team for practice and so did we.
Later, as we were walking back to the minivan, a thought occurred to me for the first time. I had never met Tommy’s mother before and she had no idea who I was. Yet she had left her eight year old son with me, a complete stranger, after a thirty second conversation. I could have been a pedophile or a serial killer for all she knew.
“Hey,” I said to my girls. “Do you think it’s weird that Tommy’s mother left him with us that way?”
“Why would that be weird?” My eldest daughter asked.
“Because she didn’t have any idea who I was. I could have been anybody.”
The three of them looked at each other and laughed.
“Whats’ so funny?” I asked.
“You couldn’t be just ‘anybody’. You’re a daddy.” My middle daughter said.
“Sure, you know that because I’m your father. But how was Tommy’s mother supposed to know that?”
“Well, what else could you be?” She responded as if I was an idiot, with a wave of her hand that encompassed me, our minivan, and her and her two sisters. “Of course you’re a daddy. Just look.”
So I looked at my reflection in the back window of the minivan and saw what she meant. Who else but a daddy would be wearing a pair of cargo shorts, a Girls On The Run t-shirt and a plastic whistle around his neck. There was also something decidedly daddyish about my ten-dollar haircut and the drug store flip-flops on my feet.
And of course, there was the minivan itself. Ted Bundy might have been able find himself a beat up old minivan, but he never could have staged it with all my dad gear and the authentic reek of family effluvia drifting out of it. In all senses, I was a man in in the full uniform of the Minivan Centurion and that fact was obvious enough to give Tommy’s mother confidence enough to leave her boy with me. Somehow there was power in that uniform, because it projected an image of safety and security that was implicitly reliable.
“I guess I do look like a daddy,” I said. The girls shrugged. Like they had said, what else could I be?
That incident reminded me of another occasion at Freedom when my youngest had asked why there never were any police patrolling the park.
“They are probably at the other places where they are needed,” I told her.
“Yeah, we don’t need them here because we have the daddies,” my oldest chimed in.
“Rigggght, we have the daddies to keep us safe at Freedom. The police are at the parks without the daddies,” her little sister said.
Choked up a bit at that, I remember looking around the park and seeing five other guys who I knew from F3 who were coaching soccer or watching their kids practice. Each of them was wearing the same uniform I was. We were all Minivan Centurions who could be implicitly depended upon for safety and security. If evil came to Freedom, it would have us with which to contend.
That was more than ten years ago. At the time, I viewed the concept of the Minivan Centurion in terms that did not expand much beyond the ideals of being a good husband and father, and a man upon whom other families in the community could also depend.
But a lot has happened since then that has caused me to see the role of the Minivan Centurion in far broader terms. He is not simply a husband, father and good neighbor. He is also the coarse twine that holds the fabric of our community together, fighting to keep us united in the face of those who would split us apart. Most importantly, the Minivan Centurion is the special trustee of the legacy of liberty which has been passed through generations of tired and bloody hands from the original men who first founded and then fought to build this nation.
It was first Jesus and then Abraham Lincoln who noted that a house divided against itself cannot stand. The Minivan Centurion is a man who recognizes both that truth and its logical extension: a house united will not fall.
He is a man who holds that truth to be self-evident and is willing to fight for it.