As your sons and daughters begin the school year it’s a good time to express your expectations of their behavior and the consequences of their failure to do so. I vividly remember the edict my Dad laid down to me as a teenager. In no uncertain terms he quietly said, “If you ever drink and drive the family car you will not enjoy that privilege for a year. Simple, straightforward, no strings. That was Dad. He always left you with uncomplicated thoughts. In this case his operative words “drink and drive” and “enjoy that privilege.” I’ve never forgotten them.
I took my dad up on his declaration shortly after my seventeenth birthday. When I snuck in the kitchen door at 1 am on a steamy, Cincinnati summer evening in my sweaty, dirty baseball uniform my worst nightmare confronted me. It was my father, ruffled hair and in his pajamas, who immediately engaged me in conversation. He asked, “How did you do tonight?” I told him we won the championship.
I recall the forbidding expression on his face when he tersely asked, “Have you been drinking?”
My knees buckled as I knew my fate before I answered. We were face to face, boxed into small quarters in our kitchen. It was impossible for him not to smell my breath. Like a policeman who sticks his head inside your car to get a whiff of the rarefied air before you’re asked the question, “Had anything to drink tonight?”
I was trapped. Most of all my numbed brain came alive at the thought of his admonition. Remembering the operative words, “drinking and driving,” I knew my world was crashing. There wasn’t one thing I could do. Simply, there was no way out. Yes, I said, with the guys after the big win. My father had quickly discerned this as in those days the Binaca blast wasn’t available to camouflage exotic odors and my slurred words weren’t the product of a brain cramp.
More importantly, both of us knew the consequences; what this breach of his prior edict meant. I quickly figured out that he was testing me. Would I tell the truth or conjure up some cockamamie story to save my butt? I realized that by not telling the truth, trying to BS him, would not only anger him but increase the pain awaiting me.
My father was not a lecturer. His directives were simple. He used a stiletto, not a hammer. His expectations were not unreasonable. So at breakfast the next morning I was not surprised by his clinical approach to our early morning encounter some six hours earlier. “No use of the family car for one year,” was the verdict.
This meant taking the bus and streetcars. It meant hitch hiking to my home which was in a rural suburb about two miles from any public transportation. It represented a significant loss of personal freedom. The bottom line was that it produced for me an early lesson in accountability—owning up to a mistake and facing the consequences.