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Dad Does the Right Thing

Sep 1, 2008
Some of my earliest memories have to do with my fascination with fish. Every ride in the car was spent looking for water and then trying to find evidence of fish. I lived for the day that I could go fishing, but my dad didn't share my enthusiasm.

As I got older, he reluctantly allowed me to fish in the lake at one of the local parks, provided I had all of my chores, homework, and practice finished. As you can guess, the fishing wasn't too good at the park, so I dreamed of the day that I might be able to fish in a local sand pit. I knew how big the fish would be given the fact that the lake had been fenced off and nobody had fished there for years.

Needless to say I was overjoyed the day my neighbor knocked on our door and announced that people were now fishing in my dream fishing hole. "Dad, it's a chance of a lifetime," I begged. "Those fish don't even know what a fisherman is. And Mr. Nicholson says he'll let me go with him. If you let me go, I'll do double chores next week."

My excitement knew no bounds as Mr. Nicholson and I pulled up to the lake and saw that someone had taken a section of the fence down. There were many fishermen there, already sharing my own enthusiasm. In no time we all discovered that the fishing was every bit as good as our dreams. My bag was filling with beautiful catfish.

Then disaster struck. I heard a short blast from a police siren and then, "OK, guys. Reel 'em in and come up to the car."

"What did you guys cut the fence with?" asked the officer.

"No sir, we didn't do it," I said. "There are lots of other guys here. We found the fence that way. We thought it was OK since everybody else was fishing."

"Nice try, kid. I don't see anyone else. Where are they?"

To my disbelief, all the other fishermen had disappeared. We were all alone. Now as I think back on it, they had hidden in the bushes when the patrol car came up.

We were arrested. I was charged with trespassing and delivered home in the patrol car. To make it worse my court date was set right in the middle of the week of our first family vacation. A poor family like ours didn't usually take vacations, so this was a big deal.

My dad told me to call the court to see if the date could be changed, but the answer was no. I then asked if someone could represent me and was told that my partner, Mr. Nicholson, could do that. This turned out not to be true. We went on our vacation anyway.

Upon returning we were met by Mr. Nicholson, who told my dad that an arrest warrant had been issued for me since I didn't appear in court. "You'd better turn yourself in before the cops get here," he pleaded.

My father took me to the police station, explained the situation, and luck was with me. They issued a new court date.

In preparation for the trial Dad gave me three good pieces of advice:

Number one: Ride the number three streetcar. It stops right in front of the courthouse.
Number two: Don't be late for court.
Number three: Call the judge Sir as many times as you can.

When I asked if he would be going with me, he said, "No, Jim, I wasn't the one who broke the law. Anyone big enough to break the law is big enough to face up to the judge." So, I went on my own.

Arriving very early, I had the opportunity to hear how the judge handled things. I was amazed at how understanding he was, handing out deferred sentences, giving probation, etc. So, I was feeling pretty good about my chances.

Now it was my turn. I stood before him with my most reverent posture and innocent face. It was unbelievable. The officer testified that I was the only person he'd seen going through that fence.

I tried to explain about all the other fishermen, but the judge didn't believe me.

"$40 fine!" he bellowed. "Pay the clerk."

I was crushed! It was 1948. I was fourteen years old. That was all the money I had been able to save from my paper route earnings. As soon as I got home I told my dad, "That judge was not fair!"

"What do you mean, not fair?"

"The policeman lied. I told the truth. He only listened to the cop. That's not fair!"

"Well, son, now you know how court works. If you don't like the way it works, don't go there."

With that he changed the subject and no more was said. I was learning one of the most valuable lessons of my long life. Nothing more needed to be said.

My dad has been dead for many years. As each year goes by my appreciation for his wisdom grows. I don't know where it came from. He only had a fourth grade education. But along with this he developed a deep understanding about what it takes for kids to be prepared to face a future filled with temptations, decisions, and consequences. He understood that I would be a better man someday if I faced that judge on my own.

Years after the incident, when I discussed this situation with my dad, he admitted that sending me to court on my own was one of the most difficult things he had ever done.

"Jim, letting you go to court that day alone was horrible for me. I had to keep telling myself that I wouldn't be much of a father if I babied you by going along. Even though I knew you could handle it, I still lost a lot of sleep fighting with myself over wanting to make it easier for you."

I guess it was a lot harder on him than it was on me. When he gave me advice instead of solving it for me, I just figured that he knew that I could handle it. I was never mad at him. All my anger had been focused on the judge and the policeman.

To this day I appreciate this and many other similar situations where my dad did the right thing even though it was not easy for him. Maybe it is because I know that many kids facing a situation similar to mine today would appear in court in a different way. Would they be there dealing with it or would there be a battery of lawyers painting the child as a victim instead of a youngster in need of a valuable lesson about life?
About the Author
Jim Fay, one of America's most sought-after presenters in the fields of parenting and school discipline, and Kristan Leatherman co-authored "Millionaire Babies or Bankrupt Brats?," the newest book from the Love and Logic Institute, Inc. To learn more about Jim Fay, Love and Logic, or Kristan Leatherman, visit Millionaire Babies.
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