Tonight this blog entry is very personal for me. I have debated whether to write it and share. It is easy to talk about other people’s issues and problems, it is even easy to talk about my own, but when they come home to you it often brings up pain that seems, at times, best supressed.
I spent time in Federal prision for stupid choices I made, now some 23 years ago. As a speaker today, I share with audiences from coast to coast the valuable lessons I have learned from the consequences that followed the painful mistakes I have made. I am not proud of my past. I am not proud of having served time in Federal prison. I am not proud of the shame and financial hardship I have brought on my family. I am not proud that I was a poor husband and did not live up to my commitment to my wife.
A wise man, however, once told me, “You have made a serious mistake; however, YOU are not a mistake!”
Those words, spoken to me in a phone conversation in Boise, Idaho, saved my life. It was then that I knew, whatever the consequences I must face for the actions I had made, if I could somehow teach my children and lead them to make better choices – it would be worth it.
Tonight one of my son’s shared with me quite innocently, that he had taken (stolen to be clear) something insignificant from a local store while a freshman in college. Even as I write this I am having trouble coming to grips with the depth of emotion I feel. The joy that we experienced just moments and hours earlier was shattered with this revelation.
Consciously I tried to pass it off as a simple college prank, a dumb choice. I thought to myself, “Surely everyone has shoplifted once in their life.” But in reality, no matter what I thougth or tried to think, there was no way to describe the depth of sadness I felt knowing that my child who I saw through innocent eyes, was marching down the same path that I walked some many years ago. My heart ached.
As we parted tonight I needed time to collect my thoughts. Here I was a motivational speaker – addressing groups on business ethics, on choices and consequences, and yet the greatest audience that I needed to address was my son! Perhaps the greatest speech I will ever give will be to him.
While I can’t speak for you who read – if anyone will read this entry – but at times I can more powerfully speak after I have had time to write as writing to me brings clarity. God knows I have to have clarity of message if I am to help my son learn from my mistakes. Therefore the following is an e-mail I wrote to him, hoping that it will pave the way for a frank and loving discussion tomorrow.
It will be just you and I having lunch tomorrow. I feel that we need some time together – just us two.
Tonight was a bit of a roller coaster for me. I was so happy to see you. You don’t have any clue just how special you are to me and how loved you are by me. I may not say it enough or show it enough, but it doesn’t change the fact that the feeling is there. Dinner was great as was the conversation. It always is with you.
I know it was not intentional, but the bombshell you dropped on me that you would willingly steal something sent shock waves through me. I may poke fun at my experience in prison, but it was a very real and painful experience. I poke fun to mask the true pain and shame I feel from the choices I made. And, yes, today I still pay the price for those choices.
In my wildest dreams I would never have thought that you would do (yes, I know it is not the magnitude of what I did), what I did – knowing the painful price we all paid. I am sad, angry and disappointed. I am disappointed that you would, either by desire or peer pressure, do something that (I assume) you know is wrong. I believe that in your youthful stupidity, you have no clue the significance of taking that first innocent step.
What I did was wrong, but understand I didn’t start by stealing a bunch…it started by stealing a little and finding out that I didn’t get caught. Whether you want to admit it – you have done the same thing. There is no difference and there is no justification. It takes three things to commit a fraud and you proved to me tonight that you, just like I, can use all three and that makes me deeply sad.
Tonight the joy I have with you as my child has turned to a deep concern for you as an adult. Every choice has a consequence and you have yet to see or experience the consequence of your choice. Do not follow in my footsteps. I can hear you now saying to me, “Dad, I won’t.” But your actions tell me that you are capable of doing just that and, trust me, prison as a result is not worth any stupid choice.
As your father, allow me to serve as example of what not to do. If I can do that, then the painful consequences of my past choices will be worthwhile.
If there has ever been a time to listen to your dad – now is that time. Please read these words more than once and know that my love for you doesn’t change.
See you tomorrow.
In our lives there are defining moments, this is one for him and me. It is true, we all make mistakes, but we are not mistakes. I pray that the words I share in love will be heard and understood. I pray that he will get it. There is power in numbers so those who read with compassion…join me in praying that this message finds willing ears in my son and, too, for all the others who hear in my presentations to youth nationwide.