My Notes to Two Strangers

Dear Dad & Daughter at the restaurant tonight,

I apologize for listening to your entire conversation tonight. Yes, I completely, utterly 110% eavesdropped to every word you shared for thirty minutes. I just couldn’t help it. I heard one line and I was hooked. Your conversation was beautiful. It was inspiring, touching, heartbreaking, scary and affirming. Thank you for being in the right place at the right time. I needed to hear your conversation tonight, so thank you.

All my best to you; may you both continue to talk to each other as you did tonight,
A Secret Admirer, a.k.a. The Orange Rhino


My doctor’s appointment wrapped up early tonight and I had thirty minutes before the babysitter had to leave. I haven’t had any me-time lately so I decided to seize the free chunk of time and the beautiful weather and go sit outside for a quick dinner.

I sat down and ordered a beer and nachos and soaked up the warm weather, the breeze, and the absolute peace and quiet. Of course it wasn’t really quiet. There was noise all around but none of it was that of my four children asking for another napkin, another crayon, another trip to the bathroom or another French fry so to me, it was perfectly quiet. It was so peaceful in fact that my supersonic hearing picked up on the conversation next to me.

A teenage girl, somewhere between eight and twelfth grade (it is so hard to tell these days, you know?) sat across from her father nervously playing with her napkin. By the information she shared it was clear that she didn’t live with her dad, that her parents were divorced and that this was her night with him. They talked easily yet with a bit of tension. But still, they talked. He asked poignant questions, she answered politely. I heard their voices but not their words until she said this,

“You know dad, at this conference thing kids were talking about how at parties you raid the medicine cabinets at your own home. You then bring all the drugs to the party and dump them into one big bowl. Everyone then takes a handful, or two, of the drugs, and then chugs two drinks. It is really, really stupid.”

I sat there, my beer in my hand; my mouth dropped open and tears filling my eyes. My heart pounded with fear, really? Really this is what kids do? How frightening! And really, really this daughter felt comfortable to talk about drugs and actions with her dad? How phenomenal. I sat there all confused except for one thought: “way to go dad!”

The conversation continued. She shared more about how she was making new friends, how she wasn’t so worried about being friends with the cool kids anymore, how she didn’t want to be in the wrong crowd, just a good crowd. He listened quietly and nodded appropriately and then replied to her brave sentiments of truth,

“I am really proud of you sweetheart. It is hard to make new friends. It is hard to turn away from bad situations. I am so proud of you.”

He must have said it at least three or four times. Again, tears filled my eyes and all I could think of was, “way to go dad!”

The conversation continued, this time focusing on her upcoming graduation. She mentioned that some girls were buying fancy dresses; that she didn’t really care about a puffy dress, that graduation wasn’t a big deal. Again, her dad listened sweetly and replied ever so lovingly,

“Graduation is a big deal. I am proud of you. Your mom can take you shopping for a dress if you want. Or even I can, after dinner. We could go to what’s that place, JC Penny’s or the place with the JC in it?”

“You mean J. Crew dad,” she laughed.

“Yeah, we could go there. I’m proud of you. It’d be an honor to get you a dress.”

“Nah, it’s okay,” she said, “I’ll just wear something from my closet.”

Their dinner arrived and silence commenced. I of course had to interrupt it; it was time for me to get going and while they had talked and connected, I had written both of them notes and wanted to hand deliver them.

You see, as I sat there listening to them, watching them both try so hard to connect, yet connect so easily, I just wanted them to know how awesome they were doing. I wanted the dad to know how fantastic it was that he had raised a daughter who felt comfortable talking about drugs and personal struggles with him. I wanted the daughter to know how fantastic it was that she had found the strength to turn down drugs, to turn away from a bad crowd, and to now be graduating. I wanted them both to know how much their honesty and lovingness reminded me of my promise not to yell; how I hoped to have such conversations in the future with my boys, how I knew remaining yell free was one key to achieve that.

(Okay, pardon the grammatical errors. I was nervous writing the notes!!!)

I looked down at the two notes I scribbled on dinner napkins. I pondered doing nothing. I pondered crumpling up the napkins and not saying a thing. I pondered minding my own business, wondering if I would rock the boat by saying anything. And then I thought how nice it feels to be paid a compliment. I decided that the risk was worth it. I reached into my wallet and put some money inside the note for the daughter. I wrote next to it:

“I have four boys. I will never buy a graduation dress for a daughter. I know your parents would love to do so for you; trust me, it is an honor for them. But let this be a little contribution towards it. You deserve a new dress to celebrate.”

I nervously pushed my chair back and walked to their table.

“Excuse me,” I said. “I apologize for listening to your conversation. But I was just really touched and so I wrote you each a note. I hope someday that my boys feel as comfortable talking to me as you all talked to each other tonight. Best of luck to you both.”

I quickly left the napkins and scurried off, praying they wouldn’t return the money or catch me crying.

Today had been a hard day, a throw-in-the-towel type of day, an I-can’t-do-this-parenting-thing type of day, an I-don’t-want-to-do-this-parenting-thing type of day, an I-just-want-to-freakin’-yell-and-be-mean type of day. There is a lot I didn’t want today. But, let me tell you, hearing this dad and daughter talk drugs and good crowds and bad crowds, well, I do want that type of thing in my future. Big time. I want my boys to feel safe talking to me about everything and I believe that having a “yelling less and loving more” home is a great way to get there. I have been having to worker harder with the not yelling bit lately; my stress has made it harder to stay calm and I have truly wanted to give up, or rather, give in to the desire to yell. But witnessing this beautiful conversation tonight, well, it reminded me of the what I can have if I continue to yell less and love more and for that, I am re-inspired (and grateful!)

If you liked this post, read “I Just Want The Truth” 

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28 thoughts on “My Notes to Two Strangers

  1. LOVE this post! Don’t have kids yet, but this post is so inspiring. So glad that you gave them the notes, I can only imagine how much it meant to them! “Thank you for being in the right place at the right time. I needed to hear your conversation tonight, so thank you.” Love that portion of your post. It is so true that sometimes people don’t know how they affect those around them, but you let them know, which is so admirable. Thank-you for sharing!

  2. Reading this while at work…had to fight back the tears. I pray I have this sort of a relationship with my kids when they are older.

  3. So if he/she gave the notes to the dad and the daughter, he/she doesnt still have them so he/she couldnt snap the pic of them for this story. So then i am to believe he/she snapped a picture of the notes before he/she gave them to this dad and daughter? why would he/she do that? doesnt make sense to me. and in a half hour he/she ordered food, ate, then hailed the waiter for the bill, paid, wrote the notes all the while listening to the entire conversation not missing any of it. i am sorry, Its a lovely story but i have to say it sounds made up. the purpose was noble, to bring attention to and hope to inspire parents and kids to communication more. which is great.

    • Hi Marilyn,

      Thanks for reading. I appreciate where you might get this thought that the story is made up, but, it is indeed true. I took pictures of the napkins at the restaurant (you can tell by the background; it’s the outdoor patio table) because I knew I wanted to share the story because I was so moved by the conversation. I also took the picture as a reminder to myself of the moment – I am a photographer and take pictures of things that make me happy. This moment did. I had had a horrible afternoon and was really down to the point of thinking of stopping my blog. Then this happened and I was so deeply reminded of the importance of not yelling and of my relationship with my children that I wanted to share it. That moment was a turning point for me after a few months of yuck and I am very grateful for the picture to remember it. All my best, The Orange Rhino

  4. Wow, I’ve just found your site through another site that a friend had posted an article from on Facebook. I have cried and nodded through the last half hour of reading your site and I wanted to thank you for doing such an amazing blog, for your honesty and for saying the things many of us think or feel but are too scared to voice! I have so much more reading to do on this site, but two young boys are sitting outside playing and I want to go and hang out with them for a while. Beautiful xo

  5. I found your site only 30 minutes ago and I want to read every post. I am a struggling mom of a 5 y/o and a 4 y/o. I work all the time and still notice that the 1.5 hours a day I have with my kids is still enough to either mentor them or taint them for life. It scares the heck out of me.

  6. A few years back I saw a tv special on raising teenagers. One thing stuck out for me and I’ve never forgotten it. There was a psychologist who was asked what his best tip was, and he said, every home in America with kids in it should have a sign in the living room that says, “We can talk about anything here”. Communication is key.

    Wow, your story touched my heart. A stranger spoke kindly to me once and left me a note in our church which I later received. I don’t remember much about her but I still have the letter. I think you did the right thing, a very cool thing.

  7. I agree 100% with the comments of Tiffany above. You are so inspiring. I love that you wrote the notes and gave them to them. Agreed 100% of what transpired between that Dad and daugther is what defines a good relationship, in my opinion – open, honest communication. Something to absolutely strive for and I agree, not yelling will absolutely increase everyone’s chances of that happening. Thank you so very much for writing all that you do. You are helping so many Moms not feel alone going through this journey called parenting.

  8. Oh my gosh! I just stumbled across your blog site and have only read two so far. My eyes are brimming with tears and I feel so hopeful. I am going to strive to do exactly what you are doing and for the same reasons. I feel like I have a shameful secret when I just don’t want to be a mom today. Other moms cant be feeling this way, well not good ones, I would think, but to see that you are such a good and loving mom and you feel that way makes me feel so much better. I give my daughter a good life and I try but sometimes lose control and yell or be snarky. Forever now I will remember what you wrote and know that in the future it will be so worth it and just to know that my baby girl isn’t going to bed and thinking about how mommy might have hurt her feelings. Thank you so much! I am going to read more now 😀

  9. This … ALL of this … is just beautiful. Thank you for reaching out to affirm that father and daughter, for blessing them in that way.

  10. Thank you for making me cry at work today. Your blog is going to be my tool as I raise my brand-new 3 year old son.

  11. What a lovely tale and I’m so glad you wrote and gave them the notes.
    I’m a new reader and I also want to say that I know how hard it is to refrain form yelling at your children. I’ve been there and done that.
    One of my keys to success was refraining from any sugar in any food I ate. I noticed a difference when I had any. When I was sugar free I had more control over my emotions.

    I wish I had known about EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) in those days. (Forgive me if you already use it. I’ve only read this post.) It combines ancient Chinese acupressure with modern psychology. It shifts emotional energy and releases blocks that cause those emotional buttons to be pushed. It’s good for releasing stress and overwhelm and so many more things that are far too numerous to mention here.

    I now use it (among other things) to help my daughters overcome the problems I caused by yelling when they were children. On a positive note we all have a great relationship despite the bad parenting. They knew I was doing my best and I would apologise when I flew off the handle.

    If you don’t know about EFT you could Google it or look for videos on You Tube. Or you could check out this page on my site. www dot towards-happiness dot com/emotional-freedom-techniques dot html You can learn how to do it and at the bottom of the page I have scripts you can follow along with to get you started.

    I hope it helps and now I’m off to read more of your posts.

  12. Thank you for sharing this story. I loved it. I had tears streaming down my face. And kudos to you for following a prompting to do something kind and good. We need more of that in the world. You have inspired me and I’m going to try even harder!

  13. Thank you SO much for sharing this story. It really made me tear up….. everything about it… and I”m so glad you had the courage to tell them what it meant to you. And how incredible sweet that you contributed to her dress. That could possibly be something all three of you never forget.
    Many blessings to you…. wish all the world could be more like you (I’m trying!)… in a world that is SO negative, even when you had a bad day, you blessed someone else.

  14. This is a great post BTW. I’m glad you took the time to give this pair some positive reinforcement. Personally, I think the compliment is always more valued when it comes from a stranger. Maybe that’s just me. The story the girl was sharing about the kids at her school & the drugs really scares me. I’m sure that situation isn’t unique to her school and that’s truly disturbing. Makes you wonder how any kid survives it, but obviously they do just like this girl seems to have. It was good you shared your notes with them. I think it will be something that sticks with her for years to come. Not only is her dad proud of her, but a stranger thought enough of her to be proud too. That’s BIG. 😉

  15. This is pure joy! As a mother of a 5.5 yr. old daughter and an elementary school teacher your bravery and willingness to compliment and uplift those doing a GREAT JOB is purely inspiring! Being a good person is hard work and we should all focus on those things more! A great way for me to start my day. Thanks!

  16. There is so much inspiration here it’s leaking out my eyes! Thank you for doing, thank you for sharing with us too. Maybe he is an Orange Rhino too!

  17. This is so beautiful. You are such a wonderful person for doing that!!
    I often see people struggling with a kid hanging off each arm and baby crying and I want to go and offer to help. Something always pulls at my heart, but I never do it. I feel nervous or I wonder what they or other people would think. It has taken me 5 years to be comfortable telling my mother-in-law that she looks beautiful after she’s had her hair done (or any day!) and know that she is going to tell me she doesn’t and then I have to reinforce it.
    I am struggling at the moment with my 4 y/o not being open with me. When she has an accident or makes a mess she just tries to hide it (which makes more mess) which makes me angry and are the only two times that I have yelled since the beginning of April! She knows that she has never been in trouble for this kind of thing and we don’t know why she is suddenly hiding it from us.
    This has inspired me to let people know that they are doing a good job and help them if they need it, and to work on my communication with my daughter now to set up a good habit for when she’s older. Much <3 to the Orange Rhino!

    • I’m wondering if this is a phase that all small children go through. I only have one so I wouldn’t know. My son turned 6 this week & for the past 4-5 months we’ve been struggling w/ him hiding things from us because he thinks we’ll get mad. My husband & I don’t often get mad, at least we didn’t think we did. Him doing this is why I started following this blog. I figured we must be reacting more negatively than we realize, so I wanted us to be much more mindful of how we react when he does do something inappropriate. Sure enough, we changed our tone of voice & chose better words when correcting him & in the last couple weeks he’s started to tell us when he’s made a mess or what have you. Of course, it’s quickly followed with the question, “Are you mad at me?” Usually we’re not, but when we are we say so & explain why. We also ALWAYS follow it up with, “Thank you for telling us the truth. You know we love you no matter what, right?” And we give him a hug. We may still take away his tv time or V-smile as a consequence, but the whole ordeal has been much more pleasant for all of us AND he’s telling us the truth, usually unprompted. That’s really the important part.

      • My four year old daughter has been hiding/lying about her messes and mistakes to me as well. I thought she inherited from her father! Just kidding. I didn’t know how to approach these situations until I read your post-so THANK YOU! I am going to try it.

  18. You are so wonderful, there are no words…. Thanks for the beautiful words & the courage to write those notes. I am sure you made their day. My daughter is only 6 but I know every parent dreams to have talks with their kids & neither worry about getting judged. Working on it. Yelling less woo hoo……

  19. Orange Rhino, you have been a true gift to me the last 3 weeks and am so glad to have found your ideas, posts, inspirations, hopes, etc. this is an awesome story and brought tears to my eyes. I have two boys and hope we can always have open communication. My day was totally off key today but I’ve managed to keep positive! Thank you sooo much!

  20. That is one of the most incredible true stories I have ever heard. Thank you so much for sharing. I have two girls, 6 and 9. I so badly want this type of open communication with them now and when it truly matters.

  21. Thank you for stepping up and telling that family how good they were doing. It is so easy to sit and mumble your reaction, positive or negative, but it takes true bravery to step outside of yourself and acknowledge publicly how you feel. Just like watching a mom having a bad day with a kid or two (or four) out of control and ready to lose it….instead of seeing if we can help, or even just offering a positive smile of encouragement and empathy, we usually make that “I’m so glad that’s not my kids – I’d never let them behave like that…” sneer, and walk away as fast as possible. We all need a pat on the shoulder, literally and figuratively, every now and then.

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