I told this story the other night to some friends, and I thought I would share it with you. Those of you who know me well have probably heard me tell this story before, but just in case you haven't...here you go.
In high school, I was a busy kid. Choir, barbershop, musicals, basketball......sometimes I would leave the house at 7:00 am and not return until 10:00 pm. So my parents purchased one of the coolest, new gizmos on the market....a bag phone for the car. It looked very much like this.
I was only allowed to take the phone on days I would be getting home late. The rest of the time it was on our kitchen counter or in my Daddy's car. So the cigarette lighter in my car was always open (did you notice the plug for the phone?), and the ashtray was always sticking out so that I could quickly plug in or take out the phone. The ashtray became the place for spare change, which worked fine when the phone was plugged in. But one day, when the phone was at home, a penny somehow got into the open cigarette lighter and shorted out the computer in my car.
Daddy was pretty gracious about it, told me everyone made mistakes, and paid to get my car fixed...a few hundred dollars. Then I got my car back.
Then it happened again.
In less than a week.
A penny. In the lighter. Shorted out computer.
I had to tell my Daddy.
Yup. Not good.
Now some of you may think this is going to be a story about the power of forgiveness and understanding. Or perhaps you think this will be a story about how to seize the teachable moments to calmly and rationally explain a concept to a child. This is not that story.
When I told him what had happened, the look on my Daddy's face was total disbelief and consternation. That was followed by a flash of anger that settled into frustration and exasperation. As I watched these emotions flicker across his face, I was cringing inside. He was silent for a full minute before he finally just looked at me and said in all seriousness..."Are you just stupid?"
Some of you might think the question harsh. It was certainly shocking to me. But as he went on to explain that most people, after the first time, would have realized an ashtray was not the best place to keep the spare change, I woke up. He had a point. Continuing the habit of sticking my change in the ashtray with the open cigarette lighter and not expecting something to go wrong was...well...stupid. I had no defense. It hit home. And I have never forgotten the lesson.
Bad habits lead to bad consequences. To change a consequence you must change the habit. To do the same thing, again and again, expecting different results is......stupid.
My Daddy gives an embarrassed chuckle when I tell this story around him. He's a little embarrassed he called his daughter stupid, but I am so thankful that he did. Nothing else would have permeated the self-centered, all knowing attitude that is a teenager. It was like a glass of cold water tossed over the top of the shower curtain while taking a hot bath. It was shocking, and effective.
I look at some of the famous young women who fail over and over again making fools of themselves. I look at our leaders who can't agree on what day of the week it is much less what will help our country. I look at some adults who never seem to be able to pay the bills though their households are blessed with plenty of money. I look at all of these people and pity them. They obviously didn't have a father who loved them enough to call them stupid. I am glad that I did.