A number of years ago, a life-changing incident occurred that involved my son, Philip, who at that time was a teenager. That day I had rented a car for a work-related trip the following morning, and it was parked in our driveway when my wife and I went to sleep. At around 2 in the morning, the phone rang and woke us up. It was the police telling us that our son was in custody at the police station for driving a car – my rental car – without a license and for knocking down a row of shrubs in someone’s front lawn. He was uninjured, I was told. And I was asked to come down to the station.
This is a call no parent wants to receive. As I groggily got dressed, splashed cold water on my face to wake up, ran a comb through my hair and got in our car, a number of things were running through my mind. Did my son damage the rental car? Does our insurance cover such damages? Will I be able to take my trip the next morning as planned? What about the damages to the row of shrubs? Will the owners sue? Would we need to go to court over this? What in heaven was he thinking when he took the rental car out for a ride without permission, at night, and without a driver’s license? Had he been drinking?
When I arrived at the station, Philip was sitting on a bench, slumped over, his head in his hands. When he heard my voice and looked up, I could see that he was stricken with guilt, remorse and fear. I didn’t know what to do; I had never been in this situation before. Acting on instinct, I went up to him, held him in my arms and said to him, “Are you all right?”
He told me afterward, and a number of times since then over the years, how relieved and redeemed he felt by my touch and my words. He understood that his wellbeing was more important to me than any wrong or consequences. You know, as parents we sometimes do the wrong thing and occasionally we do the right thing. I had done the right thing.
Over the years, he has told me that he learned so much about humanity and parenting from my response. We spoke about the incident again recently. I told him that I have come to understand more about the value and power of forgiveness. I now realize that we can only expect others to forgive our mistakes – and as human beings we make a lot of them – to the extent that we are willing to forgive the mistakes of others. The rental car incident for both of us represented forgiveness prevailing over anger and judgment.
Philip now has a 2-year-old son, Pace. I told him that he could “pay it forward” by remembering that someday when Pace invariably stumbles, he can show Pace that he loves him more than he cares about how he messed up.
Pace was born when Philip was 36, which is the same age I was when Philip was born. There are consequences to having children later in life. It’s a case of simple math: 36 plus 36 equals 72, plus two years for Pace equals 74, the age I am now. I have told Philip that one of my greatest regrets is that I will not know Pace as he fully grows up, and that Pace will never really know his grandfather. I wondered what I could leave behind that he might know me by, possibly things that I have written, like this column.
Philip replied, “Pace will know you because you will always be within me. I certainly will do my best to be the same kind of father to Pace that you have been to me – the best Dad a son could ask for.”