What do you do with a drunken sailor?

Cindy ArpFeature

There’s a lot of airway noise right now. Accessing the news takes courage, as one hears everyday rants, as fingers point, and as everyone who is talking is completely convinced that their righteous way is the only way. Surely there are other ways to get one’s point across, ways that lead, teach, or show.

When I was 17, I finally got my driver’s license. I’d had my license about three days when, alone in the house but with daddy’s old 1958 straight shift Ford car available, I decided I would call a friend and we’d go to the lake and swim. I knew daddy had canceled the insurance on the car a couple of days before, but it would all be fine. There was nobody home to ask, so I didn’t ask.

Everything went fine until I pulled out of my friend’s driveway and a fast-moving car came around the curve and t-boned us. Oh. My. Word. When the man got out of his car, he was furious, yelling and trying to recruit the neighbors into saying it was my fault. We exchanged phone numbers, and I slunk home, having most of the day to dread telling my father what I’d done.

That night I showed daddy the car. I said the man was going to call. Daddy asked some questions but didn’t fuss. When the man called, Daddy stopped him mid-sentence with the words, “Sir, you may express your concerns to my lawyer. Here is his number.” The man paid for the car repairs, and Daddy never said another word about it. He didn’t have to. His gentle approach gave me no opportunity to become angry, to protest a punishment, or respond in any way except to own what I had done and vow to never do it again.

He used the same technique when my sister and I were 15 minutes beyond our 11 p.m. curfew. We found the door locked, snuck around to our bedroom window, opened it and went to bed. Once, after an approved pass to go to a dentist appointment, a friend tagged along, and we went to Shoney’s for lunch afterwards. Of course, Daddy saw us, and at dinner that night he commented, “I saw you today, buddy.” He didn’t need to say another thing. No shouting, only recognition of the problem with gentle words.

I am reminded of the old sea chanty “What do you do with a drunken sailor?” The song explores several options to solve the problem of an incapacitated sailor on a whaling ship, and my favorite option is to “put him in a longboat ‘til he’s sober” – the early 1800s version of the modern-day drunk tank.

There are several ways to get one’s point across. One can shout, one can manipulate, or, one can recognize the dignity of all living creatures, ask a few questions, if need be, and then give the person space to think. How revolutionary.

Cindy Arp, teacher/librarian, retired from Knox County Schools. She and husband Dan live in Heiskell.


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