When an angry father thought his daughter was about to marry someone undeserving, he didn’t hold back in insulting the young man. Over the next several months, he learned secret after secret about his daughter’s fiancé, putting his earlier assumptions to shame.
This is the story of a young man that I wronged and how he taught me, a 54-year-old man, that the world wasn’t what I had made it up to be.
One fine Sunday evening, I was waiting for my daughter to come home to the delightful hot chicken pot pie I cooked for her, and perhaps we would watch a movie later. There she arrived, my beautiful daughter Alice, but who’s that on her trail? It was a young man, possibly in his early 30s, letting her hold his hand and do all the talking.
“Dad! This is Jake. You remember I told you about the guy who helped me when my car broke down? That’s him.”
“My car’s fine, son, but thanks for dropping by,” I joked. What can I say; it’s in my nature to joke when I’m nervous or trying to hide my disinterest.
I looked over at Alice, and she was not amused. She clearly expected me to give her date a warmer welcome. But to be honest, I didn’t remember a thing about the guy.
Over dinner, Jake tried to make conversation, and all I could think about was: What did my sweet child see in this ordinary-looking man? I could see the car he had arrived in and the clothes he was wearing. Confidence and politeness seemed to be the only things this man had in abundance.
I tuned out pretty quickly from the conversation, only to ask the occasional templated questions about where he’s from and what he did for a living. “There’s no way my daughter dates him for more than a week,” I thought.
Don’t judge people based on their appearance.
But then came the shock of my life and the moment when I did something I’m not proud of. But if you or your folks grew up like me, in a middle-class household in the 70s, where the parents struggled to make ends meet, and the kids only ever got new clothes once a year, you could guess what I was going to do next.
At the dinner table, my Alice gives me her hand, asking me to look at it carefully. And I wasn’t prepared to see a sparkling diamond ring on her finger, much less for the joy with which her hand was gripping my arm.
“This guy? Seriously, Alice?” I asked, preparing my body to suppress my aggression.
“You dated for three years, darling. You threw out guys with stable jobs and million-dollar businesses for the weirdest reasons. And now, when some guy who doesn’t have enough to buy himself a decent car or a nice suit comes along, you fall for what, his charm?”
I should have stopped right there. I should’ve seen the shattered look on my girl’s face and let it go. But I didn’t.
“You! What makes you think you are worthy of marrying my daughter?” I channeled my anger toward the man.
“She’s done her Masters in Political Science. And you – a random dropout? Why would I let you marry my daughter?”
“With all due respect, sir, I may not be educated, but I’m perfectly capable of taking care of your daughter. Maybe we can calm down and–” Jake was beginning to explain, but his calm tone only annoyed me more.
I don’t know what had gotten over me. In that rush of anger, I swung open the door and gestured for him to leave.
So, no. We didn’t exactly start off on the right foot.
And even when we met for the second time a week later, things were destined to remain heated between my daughter’s fiancé and me.
I walked out of my office building to find Jake and Alice waiting for me. “Dad, there’s something I need to show you,” Alice insisted, even though Jake didn’t look keen to see it.
The three of us drove to a strange deserted spot under the city’s main bridge. I watched cluelessly as Alice helped Jake carry some bags from the car’s trunk.
We walked a few steps until we saw a group of homeless people settled by the foot of a pillar. They were older men, thin women, and kids whose eyes looked hungry.
Of course, this young man was now trying to make an impression on me by feeding the poor. He and Alice distributed bags of food to the group, engaged in small talk with them, and politely walked away.
“Why do you do this?” I pretended to be interested, much to Jake’s surprise.
“I do this because it gives me a lot of genuine satisfaction,” he said without any pride on his face.
“Of course, I could spend money on a new car or an upgraded phone. But for the same money, these helpless people could feed themselves for months together.”
“Ha! Like giving them a bowl of hot soup and bread once a week will help them beat their poverty,” I shrugged.
I was looking for a reaction, but I didn’t anticipate Jake to stop walking and break into a passionate monologue.
“It’s easy to belittle whatever good someone’s trying to do. But I do what I can because I’ve been there, in their tattered shoes, in their grimy clothes, wishing for a kind stranger to come by with some food so that the pain in my stomach can finally end.”
“I’ve lived that life, and I know that money and power are useless unless you do something meaningful with them. And to me, there’s nothing more meaningful than feeding a hungry person.”
Before I had the chance to apologize to him, Jake stormed off, trying to keep a tear from dropping from his eye.
That was the first time I felt I might have been wrong about the guy. But of course, pride got in the way, and I didn’t try to talk to him in the weeks that followed. As fate would have it, my pride was completely crushed at my next rendezvous with my daughter’s fiancé.
I was hearing voices around me, and I could barely open my eyes. I had been in the hospital for a fortnight by that time.
The last thing I remembered was that I was driving, and I was surrounded by the blinding light of a truck dashing toward me.
I only learned the full aftermath of the accident later. I was told that I was in a critical condition, and that I needed an urgent liver transplant. You know how these things are, they need a perfectly matching donor, or else lives could be in danger.
Alice told me there was an initial struggle to find that perfect match, but a casual test revealed that Jake “checked all the boxes,” as the doctor had apparently said.
Now here’s the part that always gets me emotional. The doctors sat Jake down and told him there was a good chance I wouldn’t make it. And if the liver transplant didn’t go as expected, Jake’s life could be in danger as well. The doctors wanted to ensure Jake fully understood what he was getting into.
When I heard all of this shortly after my surgery, I couldn’t hold back my tears. In full view of my friends and family, I broke down and cried like a little baby, holding Jake’s hand.
I wanted to apologize to him and thank him for shocking me out of my cynical view of the world. There he was, holding my hand, feeding me soup like I hadn’t brutally insulted him all those weeks ago.
Alice and Jake were super-excited about my recovery, and the day I realized I was physically capable of hugging again, I hugged them both and gave them my blessing to marry.
But there was one last thing that I would learn about Jake that would shock me beyond words. It was on their wedding day.
Jake had insisted on taking care of all the arrangements financially, and I was beyond surprised to walk onto that gorgeous lawn, that classily decorated banquet hall shining in themes of gold and white.
“The man’s clearly been saving up for this,” I thought. And as I walked through the crowd of guests, I was astonished to see so many unexpected familiar faces!
They weren’t family or friends – they were all colleagues who worked at the same company as me. They were all faces I had only seen on little squares during online board meetings. All those well-groomed men and women were regional heads, country heads, and chief officers from different corners of the world.
“Mr. Schwarz, fancy meeting you here!” I walked up to the country head of the German division.
“Well, I wouldn’t miss the wedding of the owner of the company, would I?” he said.
That’s when it hit me – Jake’s face was familiar after all! He was the shy, introverted brainiac who had started the tech company ten years ago. And I thought I was deserving of respect – for being a mere General Manager at the firm.
It was only then that I began to truly understand the young man. He was a kind-hearted, calm soul at the head of a successful multinational company. He was the 30-something boss of over 50,000 employees worldwide, and yet, he regularly brought soup, bread, and delicacies to the homeless without declaring it to anyone else.
And he was in love with my Alice. That part is only understandable. Anybody would be lucky to have my daughter in their lives, including the incredibly kind and intelligent Jake.
The newlyweds made their home just a few blocks away from mine. And on my birthday two months ago, my son-in-law bought me a chic black luxury car.
He knew I would appreciate it, but this time, I was the one to surprise him. “Son, the car is a beaut! But would you mind if I sell this car and donate the money toward the homeless?”
Jake’s eyes lit up with joy, and he nodded, saying,” That would be perfectly acceptable, dad!”
So that’s what I did. I sold the car because I had already gotten something way bigger than that – an incredible son.
What can we learn from this story?
Don’t judge people based on their appearance. The man in this story couldn’t have been more wrong about Jake, which he only learned over the course of several months.
To truly enjoy your blessings; spread some around. Jake understood that there was no use for materialistic things and success unless he used it to help people who were in need.
Share this story with your friends. It might brighten their day and inspire them.