It’s all making sense now: 9-9-1 was really 9-1-1.  Fives times over.

“Um….oh…,” I tried to say, still stunned. “They weren’t joking. Elliot, go get your brother,” I said.

“Officer,” I said, “you’re going to want to talk to my son, and I’m going to stay right where I am.”

I don’t remember what she said, but I do remember the relief I felt when she removed her hand from the top of her holster.

Garrett came out, wearing his usual deer eyes when he knows he’s in trouble. They make disciplining him a real challenge. I was eager to see how long it would take for the officer to melt before their mighty power.

“Garrett,” I said. “This officer wants to talk to you. Tell her what happened.”

Garrett has sweet, almond-shaped eyes and a lot of hair that frames his face. He also has a smokiness to his voice, which when dripping with sincerity makes you want to squeeze him, not scold him. He could melt Leona Helmsley, even Martha Stewart. If we were ever homeless, we could send Garrett out to beg and we’d have a down payment on a new home the next morning.

The officer may have been packing heat, but she was no match for what Garrett carried. She went from gruff to maternal in less time than it takes to fill a baby bottle.

“You know what you did was wrong,” she said, looking like she wanted to kiss him.

“Yes,” he mumbled, staring at her with deep-blue sincerity.

He cinched it with that one-word answer. The mother in the officer came fully to the surface, no longer constrained by her masculine uniform. She looked like she wanted to adopt him. She touched his shoulder and smiled.

No scolding. No scary stories about the horrors of the criminal life.  She just had him promise that he wouldn’t do it again, which he hasn’t. She left about as quickly as she arrived.

We worry about too many things as parents and having to call 9-1-1 is at the top of the list. Yet in my home it has been called five times in real life—none being real. I’ve called for help more times than that in my nightmares—none of those terrors were real either. Most of our deepest parental fears never come to pass, yet look at the powder we burn on them?  It takes more courage to trust in goodness than to give into the temptation of fear, our most common parental temptation, our most natural state of mind.

Spring is a great time to blow parental fear out like the germy air it is.

Paul Coughlin is the author of No More Christian Nice Guy, and the upcoming, No More Jellyfish, Chickens or Wimps: Raising Secure, Assertive Kids in a Tough World (June 2007). He is the co-author along with his wife Sandy of Married But Not Engaged.  He's also a founding member of GodMen ( To have Paul speak at your men's event, contact him at Sandy can be reached at