When two officers pulled over a man in Cedar Park, Texas, they would have been well within the law to issue him multiple citations, particularly for transporting his children without car seats. But they chose to listen instead. Then they chose to act.
Officer Justin Gower pulled over a pickup truck in a routine traffic stop last weekend, ready to give the driver a ticket for his malfunctioning light and expired registration, but when he walked up to speak to the driver, he noticed that three children were riding in the back seat with no car seats.
It turns out Officer Gower had heard of the man before, as his tough-luck story was well-known among fellow officers: The man had little money and had been living in his car and then a hotel to attempt to save some and do right by his family. So Gower called in a fellow officer, Cale Hawkins, who had also spoken to the man, and the two decided that something needed to be done to help this family.
Hawkins recalls the conversation, saying, “We just kind of stepped off to the side and said we need to kind of do the right thing and get these people some car seats.”
That’s exactly what they did, heading over to the local Walmart, pooling their own money and buying all three seats and even helping the man install them so that his kids, who are 1, 3 and 4 years old, could ride safely in his vehicle.
Officer Gower was right on the money when he said, “Giving him three tickets, it wasn’t going to do any good. Those kids were still going to have to be driven somewhere, somehow with no car seats.”
They’re completely right, of course. A ticket would have been justified, but there is a difference between what is justified and what is right, and these two chose the latter. Parenting is a challenge by itself, but parenting when you’re poor, down on your luck or financially unstable can feel downright impossible.
It’s estimated that 76 percent of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, and it’s a safe bet that a large number of those people are also parents — responsible not only for their own safety and quality of life, but their children’s too. When you live like that, as most of us know firsthand, it also means living with some degree of fear that, if one thing goes wrong, one unexpected expense crops up, you’re done for.
Who knows? It’s possible that between the cost of the citations and the cost of the car seats, any meager savings the man had set aside would have been decimated. It’s possible he wouldn’t have been able to pay them at all, and then he’d be in real trouble. He might not have been able to afford the car seats, and his kids’ safety would have been jeopardized every time they needed to go to the grocery store or the doctor’s office.
This gesture, which was such a small thing to the officers, was a monumental thing for the father, who called it a “miracle” and a “blessing.” This is what “it takes a village” really looks like. It’s stepping in to help instead of shame someone. It’s easing the burden for another parent when you can and hoping that someone will do the same for you when you need it most. It’s forgoing whatever vindication you might feel for getting someone into trouble for being a “bad parent” to help them out instead, if not for them, then for their kids.
There’s so much talk about how disconnected we all are that it can almost feel sometimes as though there’s a huge shortage of empathy in the world. Then people do something like this, and you realize that’s not really true.
Why did Officers Gower and Hawkins do what they did? Is it because they too are fathers and understand just wanting what’s best for their children? Maybe it’s because they know that any one of us could be humbled and in need of help at any time. Maybe it’s just because it was the right thing to do.
The why doesn’t matter. We’re just glad they did.