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OhOwedOde to my Father

If you look at it from an older person’s perspective, my father died young. When I was a lofty teen I thought 62 was ancient and not worth a second glance. Into the sha-sha-sha-a-llows, as the song goes. As every year passes I realize how young he was.

My Dad taught me things that money can’t buy—like poverty. He also taught me about truthfulness, tenacity and honesty. When I was eight, I discovered the gum ball machines at our local grocery store would dispense its bounty just by turning the knob—no need for a coin. I took a bag from one of the check stands and filled it with the glorious rainbow orbs. I’d hit the jackpot! Being a kind, generous, sharing person, I helped my three-year-old sister fill a bag of her own.

When we got home my dad noticed our bulging cheeks and the dripping, sticky colors running down our chins. Of course, he wanted an explanation and when I gave it to him he frowned.

“That’s stealing,” he explained.

I objected. How can it be stealing when anyone could take as much as they wanted without costing them a penny? I clearly remember that rationale when I see looting hooligans carry out TV’s, sneakers, and any number of good stuff from stores with nobody to stop them.

When he explained that someone had bought those gum balls with the intent to sell them to earn a living, my face crumpled and I burst into tears. I was a thief. An appalling shoplifter. A monstrous robber, raider, pillager. More than any of that, I was a disappointment to my dad.

Seeing my despair, he knelt so that we were eye-level.

“I want to tell you something that I hope you will never forget. You see, we aren’t born honest.”

That took me by surprise but he continued.

“We’re born innocent. Honesty is something we learn. In order to become honest, we must learn from our mistakes and make amends. I’d like you to go back to the store, tell the manager what you did, and work for what you stole. That’s what it takes to be honest.

“But what about Ruth? She stole gum too!” I protested.

“You were old enough to know bette, Ruth wasn’t. She followed the example of her big sister. I hope you’ll remember in the future that your behavior doesn’t just affect you.”

I cried all the way back to the store and was ashamed and humiliated to approach the manager. He was gracious but handed me a broom.

My dad taught me a lesson that has lasted a lifetime. Honesty isn’t easy to learn. But for those who learn it, whether they’re eight or eighty, the reward is great. Peace and dignity, honor and integrity.

Oh, how I owe my father for teaching me this lesson and a thousand others. Happy Father’s Day, Dad. This ode is for you.