I was visiting an agency customer with which we’ve worked for nearly ten years. While I was sitting in the Director’s office for what must have been the 27th time, I noticed a hand-written note hanging on her wall just to my left. I squinted and read the note aloud as a soliloquies (typed as it was written):

dear Dad

I already miss you so your the bes dad and I’m not kidding your the best and i am being good. And we all miss you especially me. And it sucks your in jail but I hope you Learn not to drink anymore. but you did the crime you do the time so I love you and we all do

Love, Your son, Timmy

As I tilted my head to the side and turned to the director I asked how long that had been on her wall. She told me it had been 12 years. “12 YEARS?” I asked with amazement. How did I miss that note so many times being in her office?

She told me that she keeps it right there for clients to see as they ponder their predicament sitting in her office. She told me about the range of emotion, denial, and attitude displayed by clients facing possible jail time, or the chance to turn their lives around. She told me about one very specific gentleman that had the attitude that going to jail was no big deal—that it was “no skin off my teeth” when he was confronted with multiple violations.

She asked him if he really felt that way… the answer was yes. She asked him if it mattered to him how his decisions effected other people…the answer was no. She asked how many children he had… the answer was two. She asked him to read the note on her wall… this time there was no answer.

I know in my busy days and working long hours I sometimes forget the impact my brief absences have on my three kids. When I travel and miss a Little League game, or a karate belt ceremony I know my before-bed Face Time chat doesn’t fill in for being there. We all do it, and we all know it. But being faced with missing weeks or months at a time when our children are small can maybe just be the push some folks need to understand the impact on their kids.

I don’t know the story of Timmy’s dad—whom Timmy thinks is the best dad ever—as I suppose most little boys (and girls) think about each of their dads. And I don’t know how many people sitting in that director’s office have read that note and had an epiphany right there. How many read that note and decided that their kids really do get impacted by their decisions. That their kids really will miss them. And how many small happenings those parents will miss, the memories that will never be made, how many home runs, new karate belts, first lost teeth, or first steps they will miss by making a decision that is “no skin off my teeth.”

That note had an impact on me because when I read it I was in the middle of a three day trip 250 miles away from my three kids. I wasn’t facing a longer stint away from them, sitting is a jail cell or packed floor to ceiling with strangers in a bunk room. Kids can teach us so many things about being parents when they aren’t even trying. They can teach us by simply calling us the best and saying they miss us.

I hope that scribbling from little Timmy has made an impact on each parent that has sat in that chair. I know it made an impact on me. I invite every person that reads this and works in criminal justice to print out that letter and hang it on their wall. I hope thousands of clients read that note and it changes how they think about their course in life. But most of all, I hope fewer kids have to miss their parents because of the decisions parents make because it’s “no skin off my teeth.”