My father was not a strict man. Not much bothered him. Maybe it was because he was 42 years old when
I was born. I was the first of two boys
born to my parents. In some ways, I was raised
by parents who were the age of young grandparents.
Over the course of my childhood there were many fishing
trips. Some of these trips evolved as the trip progressed. Dad would stop at a store in a small mountain
town and hear someone talking about how good the fishing was just over the
distant mountain and off we would go to find out. Once we went fishing near Lake Tahoe and dad
heard the fishing was really good in Canada and we ended up fishing in
Kamloops, British Columbia.
On one of these evolving adventures, we rose early in the morning
and packed up the truck camper and departed from our current campsite located near
the north shore of Lake Tahoe. Dad wanted to have breakfast at a little diner
in the small mountain community near our campsite before we hit the road.
Entering the diner was like stepping into a Norman Rockwell
painting. This was the late 1950’s when
cars had carburetors and families had one phone and no answering machines. The
diner had red-checked table clothes, big salt and peppershakers and a waitress
who called each customer, “Hon”.
When my father traveled with his two sons, he liked to do
manly stuff with us. One of these manly
things was to have steak and eggs for breakfast. My father was proud of my
brother and me. He seemed to feel at peace with his two sons in tow.
On this particular morning, my brother and I had lagged
behind in the restaurant. Mom and dad
paid the bill and went out to the truck. On the way out of the diner, I noticed one of those Open-Closed signs
hanging from the front door. This was
one of those small signs that hung by a string that a waitress would flip to
the appropriate side when she would come and go to the diner each day. It was
still early morning and the sign would be advertising “Open” for many more
As I walked out the door, I flipped the sign to read, “Closed”. I felt pretty cocky as I walked to get in the
truck. When I got inside the cab of the
truck, I could tell things were not quite right. Dad looked at me and said, “Go back and fix
the sign.” I said, “What”, trying to
distance myself from my stupidity. I
argued at bit and then started the long march back to the door of the diner.
When I got to the diner door, I was humiliated. I tried to do the sign flip without being
noticed. To this day I am not sure
anyone in the establishment knew the sign had its status changed. I turned the sign back over and walked back
to the truck.
Dad didn’t say anything more to me about the sign. I learned
a lesson and paid the price of my disobedience.
At the time, I would never have thought of this, but little
roadside diners in touristy locales rely on the passing tourist traffic to
carry the business. A casual drive by a
little diner with a “Closed” sign on the front door would have someone driving
on by looking for something that was open. My act of foolishness would have cost someone a livelihood.
My father had me do the right thing, not only for me, but also
for the business. As a boy, I was
beginning to realize the ripple effect of my actions. Fathers help their children see the
consequence of their actions. Consequences that cost a child something, like a humiliating walk back to
a diner to turn over a sign, have a value.
Some of the most profound correction we bring to a child is
not physical or by denying them something – it is involving a child in a
corrective activity that helps them fix what they messed up and hopefully see
the larger picture.
The day my father told me to return to the diner his simple
request began to forge in my mind towards a respect for other people. I never turned another sign over in a
After that day, my father’s correction helped me see the
value of honor for waitresses, owners of little places struggling to make it
and most of all for me. My father was
forging a yet to be revealed man who would someday love his own children enough
to make them go back and correct their own mistakes.