Making a Grown Man Cry

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It’s a Tuesday afternoon and I’m waiting at the Coffee Exchange; one of my favorite coffee shops around town. It is not the most quiet place, but less noisy than some of the others. A solid internet connection. They not only have great coffee and breakfast sandwiches, they also feature local artists’ work. I’ve been to an opening reception of my friend Nancy’s artwork here. My favorite spot is at the end of the big conference table in the back that has plenty of room to set up shop. Donna, the owner’s mother is working the counter. She knows my caffeine vice of choice.

I’m waiting for Jack; a ‘possible’. He’s referred to our company by Scott, who has worked off and on with my husband Tim over the years. We build custom web applications. A possible new client: always exciting to find out what they are up to… what do they need? Can we provide it for them?

Jack is now 15 minutes late. I call him on his cell phone; he is underway. He apologized, he had the meeting down for a half an hour later. Oh well, at least he’s coming.

When Jack walks in, his frame fills the space. Solid build, cuddly type. He probably played football during high school. About 40, short crop of hair. An easy, personable smile. We greet; he puts his stuff down and looks at my empty ‘boat’ of coffee – I get the largest they have. His full, but kind voice:
“Well shoot, I was going to treat you to coffee”.
“No sweat, I’ll have another one.

We get settled in and I get to know Jack. He tells me about himself, his wife, his kids. He is a network engineer and a boy scout troop leader. Has 2 boys of his own. They just came back from a camping trip. Jack asks me to sign a confidentiality agreement – no problem. Then he starts to tell me about his business idea.

As he is talking, I get excited. It is a great idea, and it’s a lot of fun too! He explains how he started using this concept for himself and how it has made a difference in his marriage. He realized that it could help other people, organizations, and businesses too! We are both at the edge of our seats, and we take turns with the big yellow pad and pen, drawing boxes and arrows and scribbling notes.

I am fully on board. I tell him that it sounds great, and that we can absolutely help him build this – I’d want to use it myself! We talk about what it would take to flesh out the details. We talk about money and schedule. It can all work.

Jack leans back into his chair and falls silent. He looks up at the ceiling. He is contemplating, searching, hushed. Somehow there are no more sounds from the coffee shop either… I am right over there, with him.

I look at the man, read something in his face. Not quite sure what, but I ask: “You still have a concern?” A tense nod. “I really should talk it over again with my wife… She wants me to do this though… She told me to go ahead.
So what’s there, what is the concern?

He leans forward in his chair, one hand covering his mouth. He closes his eyes. Then these words spill from my mouth: “Are you afraid?” He nods. Then he nods some more, his hand still covering his mouth. “Are you afraid it’ll be a success??

Tears start rolling down his cheeks. My mind races: ‘oh my god, what did I do? is he ok? did I say anything wrong?” I have to compose myself for a minute, so I get up and get a box of tissues from the counter.

When I sit down again, we are still in our cocoon of silence. Suddenly Jack rattles off: “I really didn’t expect this… I thought you’d be telling me that it was a crazy idea, or that it already had been done, or that I wouldn’t make any money at it, or that it would cost me an arm and a leg… You didn’t say any of those things…”
“No, I didn’t. It is a great idea.”

Jack blows his nose. A sigh. He looks down at the table: “Now I don’t know what to do…
“Ah”. “It’s up to you, isn’t it?”
Jack composes himself. His big shoulders shrug off imaginary phantoms: “Woah, I think I need to take some time. Can I call you?”

The sputter of the espresso machine, the cash register dings. The background music is back into swing. And my phone rings. Sound is back.

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