At day’s end, Randy would throw his extra change in a gray ceramic tray on top of his dresser. He considered the change “found money” and periodically cashed it in as a “fun fund.”
“That’s odd,” he thought, “all the quarters are missing.”
Sadly, he realizes that Sean, his 11-year-old son, must have taken them — obviously no one broke in and stole $3.75 in change. Now comes the bigger question: What to do?
Being a single dad, the decision was his alone. He thought back to his own childhood, about what his father would have done. “No, spanking is out of the question,” he decides. His strongest memories of his own father are fear. “That is not what I want Sean to remember about me.”
He calls out, “Sean, I need to talk to you.”
“What’s up Dad?” Sean says as he enters the room.
“I’ve got a problem,” he replies. “I had a bunch of quarters in this tray,” tapping on the edge of ceramic dish, “They’re not there anymore. I don’t know what happened.”
He pauses; giving his son a chance to admit to his error. Will he make the correct choice? The silence is loud. He knows it’s got to be deafening for his boy. After a moment, Sean meekly volunteers, while staring at the floor, “I took one.” The lump in his throat is audible.
Pause “Maybe two.” Longer pause. “It could have been three.”
Randy recalls his own youth, the fear in admitting wrongdoing, his dad explosively red with fury, screaming at Randy inches from his face. Randy interpreted that as meaning he was unlovable, a belief with which he realizes he still struggles. Watching Sean take responsibility — especially since he doesn’t know what will happen — gives him pride in his son, despite his actions.
Randy points out, “Are you sure it wasn’t more? There were a couple dollars in there.”
“It was more,” admits Sean, fighting back tears, terrified. Randy wants to save him but knows in order for his son to get the lesson, he has to feel the effect.
“I’m proud of your honesty, Sean,” he says. “But I can’t let this go. I have to punish you.”
Sean raises his eyes, confused.
“Here’s the plan,” continues Randy. “You’ll need to repay the money, and you have to donate some toys you like. I want you to understand what it feels like to sacrifice something you didn’t want to lose.”
Painfully, Sean opts to give away one — then after Randy’s insistence — two of his favorite plastic action figures — one is a Batman toy, the other some wrestling guy. A tortuous decision from a boy’s point of view, but now Sean understands.
They take the toys to the thrift store where Sean, sniffling slightly, tells the attendant he wants to donate the toys.
“Why? You obviously like them,” says the woman at the door.
“I stole from my Dad,” he admits, head down. Then, taking a deep breath, he straightens himself up and adds, “I want to give something back to make things equal. That’s the right thing to do.”
Sean gets it. Randy knows his son is breaking up inside, but he is so proud of the boy, his own eyes are filling up. As the woman takes the toys, Randy reaches out and takes his son’s sweet head in his arms. In Sean’s eyes, he sees the sadness of loss, as well as the relief of his dad’s touch. Sean knows he is loved, even when he makes a mistake.
Randy sees the pride of his boy becoming a good man. He’s not even to puberty and in some ways, he’s fully grown.
Holding hands, they exit the parking lot.
Scott “Q” Marcus is a speaker and author. Since losing 70 pounds 23 years ago, he conducts speeches, workshops, and presentation. He also coaches individuals and consults with companies on how to implement and handle change. He can be reached at www.ThisTimeIMeanIt.com.