I remember many times, after one dumb stunt or another, that my father would ask me something like, “What were you thinking?” Well, of course, I wasn’t thinking, or I wouldn’t have done whatever it was, right? Adolescents don’t think, they do!
One day, he struck upon a way to get the lesson across to me, which is still very clear in my mind. We were sitting at the table on the patio, and he was scolding me for having done something foolish, that had resulted in my breaking the sliding glass door that opened onto the patio from my room.
I had kicked my basketball toward the wall, adjacent to the door, and missed. The door exploded into ten million beads of glass. He asked me if I ever thought about what I was doing, before doing it (a fair question, given my track record).
To make his point, as he was looking me right in the eye, he reached out to set his coffee cup on the table, and because it was half on, half off when he released it, it fell to the ground and broke. He never took his eyes off of mine.
He said, “See that? I was busy looking at you, when I should have been making sure the cup was over the table, before letting go. Now, it’s broken, and there’s a mess to clean up. And it could have been avoided, if I had taken the split second necessary to glance over and make sure, first.”
“That’s what you have to start doing, son. You need to start taking a split second to think things through a little, before you do them. Think about what’s the worst possible thing that could happen, if you do whatever it is. Then decide if it’s worth the risk.”
“Ask yourself, ‘is what I’m about to say, liable to hurt someone?’, or ‘is what I’m about to do, liable to do some damage?’ That way, you’ll avoid a lot of broken cups, and a lot of hurt feelings, at the very least.”
“Now, clean up this mess.” he said, as he got up to get himself another cup of coffee.
I think that may be one of the most memorable lessons my father ever taught me. I rarely do or say anything, now, without first considering the possible consequences.
Now, if I could just teach myself to heed those thoughts!
I can remember one night, when I was already a father myself, that my dad told me something else that I’ll never forget. He said that as far as he was concerned, he was on this planet for only one purpose…to prepare my sister and me for our lives. He said that all he had ever hoped to do, was instill in us some solid values, and then help us learn to be strong enough to live up to them.
I can’t think of a better goal in life, and that is one that I have been trying to achieve, my entire life.
Looking at my kids, I feel like I managed to accomplish at least that, because I’m tremendously proud of them.