Someone on Facebook recently asked people to tell the most important thing they learned from their father. Here’s the one I came up with and it was really 2 things I learned.
From an early age, I was told by my father that none of my possessions was as important as my life and so if there were ever a case where I needed to save my life by giving up one or some of my possessions, it was worth it.
I ended up applying that lesson early.
I lived in a small town of 1,200 people in rural Manitoba. One day, when I was about 7, I was walking home with a friend from school. To do so, we had to cross a railroad track. This particular day, for some reason, we were crossing in the middle of the train yard and not where there was a street crossing.
We were involved in our conversation and my friend was slightly ahead of me. I happened to look up and see a box car coming toward me at about 10 mph and it was about 15 feet from me. I was on the track with my bicycle. I didn’t even hesitate; I dropped the bike on the track and ran ahead to where my friend was. The whole back of the bicycle was crushed and I retrieved it and carried it the few remaining blocks home.
When I got home, I told my father what had happened. He congratulated me for using my brain.
Here’s what he didn’t do: offer to pay to get me a new bike. Our family didn’t have a lot of slack in the budget but my sense was that even if we had been substantially wealthier, he wouldn’t have paid. He wanted me to learn responsibility.
I went to a local bike repair place and sold the good front wheel to the guy for $7.50. That would go toward a new bike that was priced at about $40. So I started saving for a new bike.
A few months later, my father came back from the town fair where he had run into the local guy who had been on top of the box car moving it to a different part of the rail yard. The buy had felt bad about what had happened and offered my dad $10 toward a new bike. My dad told me that he had turned him down because it wasn’t the guy’s fault.
When my dad told me this, I was furious and I argued with him. But he made the point that I, not the guy, was responsible for what had happened. I saw his point and became less furious. By the next day, I wasn’t furious at all.
How I got a new bike within a few months is an interesting story in itself, but not closely related to the lessons I learned.
I learned about the value of my life and about the importance of taking responsibility.