The Chair

My favorite feature of the new office was its cool look. A huge, open, converted warehouse with shiny, silver cubicles, polished concrete floors, matching furniture, an open ceiling with skylights all came together to make our environment finally feel intentional. This was a big improvement from the cramped, rented apartment we occupied a few years earlier. Back then the privilege of using any mismatched chair or desk was a reward for getting to work before the other employees.

When I entered the new office on this day I noticed a large shipping box outside Brit's cubicle. Freshly cut plastic strapping tape was strewn beside it on the floor. I rounded the corner of Brit's cube to find him sitting in an expensive Herman Miller, Aeron chair.

"Now that's some nerve," I thought. "Our black, perfectly comfortable office chairs finally match and now Brit has to interrupt our aesthetic flow with this 'fancy schmancy' model."

I always figured Brit to be good with money so why would he blow so much on an office chair? His subdued expression was even more perplexing to me -certainly not what I'd expect from the usually upbeat Brit, much less a person now sitting in the best chair in the office. His face looked sad. No doubt buyer's remorse, I assumed. Perhaps he's wondering how to return it. Poor guy, he's realizing it simply doesn't fit the scheme of our office.

Brit sat silently, staring down without moving. The chair's manufacturer tag still dangled from the armrest but he ignored it.

"Nice chair, Brit," I invited an explanation.

After a few moments, Brit turned and said "Geoff, this chair is a gift from my step dad. I visited his office not long ago. He noticed my excited reaction to his chair when I sat in it so he wanted me to have my own. A short time after he placed the order for delivery, he passed away. Shipping has been held up for a month and the new chair he ordered finally arrived today."

My paradigm instantly shifted. Hearing Brit's explanation gave me one of the fastest, most powerful attitude adjustments I can remember. I hoped my face wasn't revealing the shame I felt for prejudging him.

"It actually doesn't look extremely different from the rest of our chairs," I thought -trying to yank my mind's foot out of its throat.

Brit amazed me more by calmly sharing, with an unwavering voice, a few more facts about his step dad, Michael Tatum. Michael was a master designer living in Texas. He lived life to the fullest and regularly included Brit in his enjoyment of cars, art and anything that included fine design. As a boy, Brit's mom and Michael would include Brit in professional self-improvement counseling so they could become better communicators with one another. Michael wanted the best possible relationship with his family. Over the years, Michael's way of handling life and relationships made a huge impression on Brit. And now a final tangible gift had arrived weeks after Michael's passing. I thanked Brit for sharing and left him to continue processing this unique gift and delivery circumstance in private.

I don't have a step father, however, many close friends of mine mention experiences they've had with step dads. I'm thankful that most such experiences seem to be exceptional and don't reflect the stigma attached to step parenthood.

While I stood watching an introspective Brit "soaking" in the chair and memories of Michael, I was struck more than ever with how irrelevant a biological link can be to good parenting. This was special. Step parents who earn such deep love and respect from their step children have overcome huge obstacles beginning with challenge of relating to children who are dealing with either death or divorce. Brit's story is a reminder that an appreciated step father is a great target for "thanks" this Father's day.

Brit's face, while sitting in that chair, told the story of esteem any step-father would dream of earning from a child. Brit's feelings were clearly caused by a man who had "step fathered" correctly. Brit now owns a keepsake that not only provides literal support, but also represents a wonderful metaphor for the support he had from Michael.

Yes, Brit's chair was a mismatch... and was perfect.

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