Although Mel and I didn’t address this fear through spoken words, it just seemed implied that the best thing to do was to call someone we didn’t know. A simple service worker who could fix the problem, collect a fee (and perhaps a tip to keep quiet) and then leave. We’d never see him or her again. Thinking back now, this seems like a very ridiculous and selfish assumption. Norah was terrified and locked in her room, while I was worried about my reputation.
We lived in a small city in Southern Minnesota, so there were only a handful of locksmiths listed. Mel called all of them, but only found one who was available to come help. All the rest had appointments, and although we explained the situation to them, and they could obviously hear Norah screaming in the background, they weren’t willing to modify their schedules.
My feelings of helplessness suddenly shifted to feeling like a piss-poor man. I felt like I should’ve known how to get through a locked bedroom door. It felt like something I should inherently know as a father. When my kids were born, he hospital had sent me home with a few things on caring for my child, but most of them were about the importance of not shaking a baby, and the rest were bills and instructions on how to pay them. Where was my manual? The doctor should’ve given me something with a section on, “What to do when a toddler locks herself in her room.” The chapter would be between “How to keep a child from throwing a fit in a store,” and “How to not be offended when your baby son tries to shoot pee in your face.” Everyday as a parent it feels like I’m faced with a new challenge, and every time it feels like I should’ve had more training from the government, God, or someone, before I was allowed to have children.
Norah had been locked in her room for over an hour when I ran out of objects to cram between the door and the frame. Almost everything I tried got either chewed up or bent. Mel checked her phone, and noticed that the locksmith had called. Apparently he had knocked on the door, but we couldn’t hear him because of Norah’s screaming. When Mel called him back, he said that since we didn’t answer, he went to another job, and couldn’t come back for two more hours.
I’ve never seen Mel so angry in my life. Her face turned red, her left hand in a tight fist. She didn’t scream at the guy, but I wish she had. Instead she hung up the phone while he was in mid sentence. Then she threw it across the room. “What a jerk,” she said. “What a stupid jerk.”
Norah stopped screaming around this time, and I wondered if she’d moved from behind the door. I got down on the floor and looked through the crack between the door and the carpet. I closed one eye, and I could see Norah, lying on the floor doing the same thing as me. She was trying to see if anyone was still out there, and when she saw my eye, she started screaming again.
It was then that I called the police.
The operator was a woman (I am not sure if I should call her an operator or a dispatcher, so for the sake of this essay I am just going to call her the operator. Cool? Thanks.). She had a soft voice that somehow still carried authority. I told her about the situation and assumed she was going to send a swat team, along with a few social workers to teach me how to be a responsible parent. Instead she said, “I’m sorry sir, but that really isn't an emergency.”
I recall feeling a little offended. My two year old was locked in a room, and had been in there for over an hour, and that wasn’t an emergency?
“Listen,” I said. “I am out of ideas here. I have been trying to get in there for over an hour. We’ve called several locksmiths, and none of them can be here in less than two hours. I am freaking out. My wife is freaking out. And if you listen in the background, you will be able to tell that my daughter is freaking out. Please come and help me. I don’t know what else to say.”
The operator paused for a moment. I could hear her speaking to someone else. Then she said, “What’s your address?”
Ten minutes later a fire truck and two police officers arrived at my house. They had their lights on, but not their sirens. Five men in uniform came up my stairs with a box of tools. I thought Tristan’s head was going to explode. This was, hands down, the coolest thing he’d ever seen. And me, I was thick with embarrassment. Don’t get me wrong, I was grateful for the help, but at the same time, I couldn’t believe that it would take this many people to help me get through a locked bedroom door to my daughter. It seemed like too much. It felt like they sent out something over the wire that read, “ Code 20. Underqualified father needs help opening bedroom door.”
The officers and firemen were gracious. They said things like, “this happens to the best of us.” One of the officers tried to make me feel better, while the firemen discussed a few things. They discussed kicking in the door, but realized Norah was too close to it. They went through a few of the ideas I had, but eventually, they wedged a slender tool between the door and the frame, hit it with a mallet, and the door popped open.
Norah’s hair and face was dripping with tears and boogers, and her diaper was leaking out the sides of her pink Pj’s. She looked at the group of men standing at her door with silent terror. Then she saw Mel just behind them, and ran to her mother. As she and Mel hugged each other, the men in the room let out a tender “ohhhh.”
The officers and firemen left about as quickly as they came, and suddenly it was quiet in the house. I took the lock off Norah’s door, and as I did, I wondered if I had handled this situation properly. I wondered how I could’ve done a better job. I wondered how it all came to having a group of officers and firemen come into my home to open a locked door.
At first I considered never telling anyone about what happened, but eventually I did. Most fathers had something to say about how I could’ve handled the situation. But then they always followed up with a story about when they didn’t know what to do. Some of the situations that they struggled with seemed very simple to me, while getting through a locked door was very simple to them. And I started to realize that being lost, and then finding yourself in embarrassing situation, was all part of being a dad. I suppose I’d heard this before, but I’d never really lived it. These feelings were normal. And sadly, I realized I would probably find myself in a similar situation again.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley