A Weekly Column
Joseph Walker


The situation looked familiar even if the faces didn’t.

A father and his 6- or 7-year-old son were sitting in their parked car outside a convenience store I had just patronized, engaged in a serious conversation.  Well, actually, the father was talking – the boy was listening.  I didn’t know them, but I knew what was going on.  One look at the little boy’s face told me everything I needed to know.  I had seen the look before – heck, I had WORN that look before – and I just couldn’t help smiling.

Not that there was anything funny about the situation.  Actually, something like what was going on can be pretty dangerous if it isn’t handled correctly.  But this boy’s father clearly was doing the right thing.  He was talking earnestly, but no angrily, to his son.  There were no tears, although it looked as though it wouldn’t take much to push a few out of the lad.  I couldn’t hear their conversation, but I could follow it almost word-for-word, and I knew what was coming.  I slide into my car, but instead of driving off, I sort of hung around to watch a lesson in honesty.

My guess was that they were waiting for a moment when the store would be free of customers.  Sure enough, when that moment came the boy and his dad got out of their car and walked into the store.  The boy walked slowly, his head bowed, his eyes cast downward.  In his hands was a small box or something – I couldn’t see it clearly, but I imagined it was candy or gum.  Inside the store, the father said something to the woman behind the counter.  She nodded, then turned her attention to the boy as the father stepped back and gently nudged him forward.

The child hesitated.  His father bent and whispered something in his ear, and then stood beside him with a hand on his shoulder.  The boy spoke, his head still bowed and his eyes still focused on the counter in front of him.  Then he held out the box to the clerk.

The woman behind the counter played her part beautifully.  It was a stellar performance in the category of Salesperson Trying to Help a Parent Teach His Kid Something Important.  She looked at the boy sternly, but not too sternly.  She took the box and spoke to him for a moment, but not too long.  Then she smiled kindly, but not too kindly, and the boy and his dad turned and left the store together.

Relief was clearly etched on the boy’s face as he hustled around the car to get in on the passenger side.  For the first time, I could detect a trace of a smile curling the corners of his lips.  The dad’s face wasn’t quite as easy to read, but it didn’t matter.  I knew what he was feeling – disappointment and pride, discouragement and peace, anger and love, fear and hope.

The man pulled his door closed, hesitated, and then started the car.  He was about to slip it into gear when I saw him look across the front seat at his son.  He smiled, and through the light fog that was gathering on the back window of his car I could see his mouth form the words: “I’m proud of you, Son.  You did the right thing.”  The boy launched himself across the seat and threw his arms around his father’s neck, and the father wrapped his arms around his son.

At this point, I began to feel like I was intruding on something very special and very private, so I pulled away from the convenience store.  Still, I can’t help but wonder what happened next.  Did they go out to get some ice cream together?  Did the experience help to weld a tighter bond between father and son?  Had the boy really learned this important and well-taught lesson in honesty, and would he go on to lead a happy, productive and crime-free life?

Who knows?  Who EVER knows when it comes to teaching our kids?  Some stuff connects and makes a positive difference in their lives, and some stuff doesn’t.  The important thing, as far as parents are concerned, is that we at least try to teach those meaningful life lessons when the situation presents itself – whether or not the situation itself is familiar.

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— © Joseph Walker

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