Monday, May 4, 2015

Spare the Rod and Teach a Lesson

Psychologists and educators have debated for years about the most effective ways to mete out punishment to youngsters.  A man who operated a couple of businesses in our rural neighborhood had the best solution to correct the errant behaviors of  two teenagers, one of them my own.

One Sunday afternoon in the middle of winter, when about 3 inches of snow covered the fields and lay beneath the trees in the woods, my son Todd asked if he could go to visit a neighboring friend.  "Yes, but be home in time for dinner," I said, knowing I probably didn't need to give him a time because he was fifteen and growing and mealtime was very important to him.  Indeed, he was home by dark and before dinner.

The next day, I was talking with a friend and gazing at the scenery from the sliding glass doors in my dining room when I saw a man emerge from the woods down at the bottom of the steep hill behind our house.  He walked slowly, with his head down, and as he walked, I could see he was headed in my direction.  I told my friend, and when the man was obviously approaching my house, I hung up the phone.  I didn't recognize him, and frankly, I was alarmed by this stranger who came from the woods. When I heard him ring the doorbell, I decided not to answer the door because I was home alone.

He left, and I watched him travel back down the hill until he disappeared into the woods. I wasn't able to see his face, so I still didn't know who he was.

That evening, after dinner, the doorbell rang and when I opened the door, I recognized the visitor, Bill, and asked him inside.  He said he knew we had a son, and wondered if he had been home all day Sunday.  I said, "No, he went to a neighbor's house in the afternoon.  Why?"

"Is he home now?  I would like to speak with him."

My husband called Todd to come to the living room, and when he did, Bill said he followed tracks in the snow from his junkyard to our house, and that is why he was here now.  Todd looked alarmed (a mother can always tell guilt when she sees it on the face of one of her children).

Bill asked Todd if the boys took guns to the junkyard, and Todd said they had.

"You took a gun outside without permission?" my husband asked Todd before turning back to Bill and asking, "What did they do?"

My son hung his head and I knew the boys had done something very wrong.

"I collect antique Cadillacs and store them at the junkyard," Bill said, "and yesterday, every single one of them had the windows shot out."

We gasped, because it was difficult to imagine our son, who had never been in trouble, would do something so destructive.  My husband asked Bill what we could do to correct the damage, and how much would it cost. This was a concern for us, with four children, a large house payment, and one income.

Bill paused, and then said, "Well, I've been thinking about that. The damage is in the hundreds of dollars.  I know it would be a hardship for you to pay that, and it wasn't you who caused the damage, after all. I have thought of a solution.  I will go and see the other boy's parents after I leave here, and present them with the same plan.

"I want both of the boys to come to my house every Saturday morning for a couple of months and I will assign jobs for them to do in order to work off their debt. Don't worry about packing a lunch for Todd, because I will provide lunch."

Todd, ashamed of his wrongdoing, agreed with Bill's plan, though he knew he hadn't any choice.  My husband told Todd to get his rifle and bring it to us.  When Todd handed the rifle over, my husband said, "You will not get this gun back for a year.  No hunting, no target shooting. You now do not have a rifle or access to any gun for a year."

Thus began one of the most important learning experiences of Todd's young life.  Bill taught a lesson that any amount of money couldn't have done, and my husband backed him up.  When the boys worked for him around his home and junkyard, they were not only paying off their debt, but they were privileged to hear many wise words and life lessons from Bill.  I have felt grateful to him ever since, though he has long ago gone to his eternal rest. My son never got into trouble again.

All I can say is that the lesson Todd learned has served him well, and today he is the father of two fine sons and I assume he metes out punishment with the same kind of wisdom and kindness as Bill did.

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