As my newborn son lay in my arms, I looked at him and thought he was the kindest, sweetest, most loving child. I had no idea that time would pass and he would have some hard lessons to learn from me. I missed the point that children are inherently cruel, and parents have to mentor them all the time and take care of their upbringing so that the child will grow into a good, responsible adult in the future.
One day I managed to get off work early and drove to school to pick up my 12-year-old son to spend time with him. I had completed a complicated six-month trial, and in that time, I missed my family very much. After leaving my car in the parking lot, I headed to the school gate. At that moment the bell rang, and all the students rushed outside. My son was among them. He was standing with some friends, talking about something with a boy I didn’t know.
Then I heard my son say, “Don’t think that because you study here that gives you any rights. You and your father, who packs groceries, are worthless. Remember that!”
I was appalled. Hearing my son’s hurtful words brought up sad moments from my past… Taking a few steps forward, I called out to my son, “Sean!” He heard me calling his name, turned around, and a grin slid across his face.
“Dad!” my son shouted loudly and rushed to meet me. “So, how was the trial? Did you manage to win the case?” Sean’s face brightened with joy, but when I turned my gaze to the boy who had been humiliated by my child, I saw tears in his eyes.
I asked my son, “I didn’t hear everything, but tell me, what did you call that boy?”
“Oh, that one? He’s nothing. Just a student who gets a scholarship.”
“That’s how,” I said quietly. “In other words, this kid, because of his intelligence, can go to school for free, and I have to contribute $50,000 every year so you can go to school here.”
My son’s face was flushed with red, and there was a look of consternation in his eyes. I’d never spoken to him like that before. “It’s just that I, I…”, Sean couldn’t utter anything.
“So what did you tell him?”, I questioned.
“Well, I told him… I just wanted to make it clear to him that his father is a loser, he’s just a grocery bagger in a regular store.”
“So that’s it, why is he a loser?”, I kept up.
Anxiety was getting to Sean, he was getting more and more uncomfortable with this conversation. “I mean, he’s a regular packer! A loser! He’s incapable of anything else.”
“Really? You’re assuming he really is?”, I said chagrined.
“I mean, he’s not like you, Dad,” Sean blurted out.
“You know, son, maybe there’s something more you should know about your father,” I replied to Sean.
I took my son to the neighborhood where I’d spent my childhood. He saw dull buildings with small porches and dusty windows. “Look, Sean. This is where I was born and grew up. And this is the school I went to. It was the only thing your grandfather could provide for me.”
“Grandpa?” the surprised Sean repeated after me. “How so? I don’t know anyone smarter than my grandfather!”
“Your grandfather was a garbage man,” I told Sean. “He couldn’t graduate from high school because his father died too young, and your grandfather had to take care of his mother and younger siblings.”
“And he was pretty good at it. There was always food in the family, his siblings managed to go to school and get good jobs. Later he met his grandmother, and then I came along. And your grandfather made a promise that he would do anything to give me what he himself was deprived of.” “He worked 16 hours every day so I could go to private school and then to college. And today I owe my success entirely to your scavenger grandfather, you hear?”
“Wow! I have a great grandfather!”, Sean said enthusiastically.
“Yes, he is. And I’m proud of my dad. But the interesting thing is this. While I was in that prestigious school, my classmates used to tease and shame me about my dad working as a garbage man.” “And the worst part was that I started to feel ashamed of him at some point. Hear that? I was ashamed of this wonderful man who had sacrificed himself to ensure a good future for me. I couldn’t forgive my classmates, but I also couldn’t forgive myself for being ashamed of my own father for even a second.”
“Don’t blame yourself, Dad!”, Sean even shrieked with indignation. “Because of some jerks you…”, he stopped talking, a sudden realization shook him.
It dawned on him what had happened at school today. “I did the same thing today, didn’t I, Dad?”
“Unfortunately, I did,” I replied calmly. “And what you said can’t be taken back.”
With tears in his eyes, Sean said: “I owe Jimmy an apology, I need to make it up to him.”
“Yes, you will apologize to him, and to make it up to him, for the next six weekends you will work at the store and pack groceries so you can fully experience what it’s like to work.”
Sean kept his words.
He apologized to Jimmy. They didn’t become friends, of course, but Sean began to treat the boy with respect, and his son’s comrades followed suit. After this story, Sean realized that it didn’t matter where or what a person worked. If that job helps him support his family, it is already worthy of respect. And you should never forget that life lesson.