When I was in grade school, back before you could ask Siri for help, parents had to sign a piece of paper saying that they knew kids had homework and that they did it. One time a friend stayed with us while his parents were out of town, and so both of us took our homework slips to my dad to sign for school the next day. He signed them (or so we thought), and we put them in our backpacks without giving it a second thought.
The next morning at school I was shocked to discover that my dad hadn’t signed my homework slip. He was apparently not used to signing two, and had just signed the one on top. The lack of a signed homework slip meant detention (not only did we not get trophies just for showing up we also faced consequences for failing to complete tasks). Briefly it seemed like I might be able to still make up for this, after all, my dad was the school principal. Unfortunately for me I didn’t make this discovery until a little after 8, and the rule that my dad put in place for the teachers was that after 8 a.m. kids of teachers must be treated like everyone else – no special privileges. That meant that after 8 there was no signing of homework slips.
When I went to my dad that morning he knew it was his fault. It was his mistake, but I would be the one paying the price. But no matter how much he regretted it the rule was in place for a reason, and so off to detention I went. Now, before you feel too sorry for me you should know that over the last three decades I have brought this story up so much that I’m pretty sure he stopped feeling bad about it during the Clinton administration. And you should know that the detention was only 15 minutes, so it isn’t like I missed out on a big chunk of my childhood.
Today that homework slip story is near and dear to my heart, and not just because I’ve been able to aggravate my dad with it for years. I love that story because that day my dad taught me one of the most important lessons he would ever teach me, and it wasn’t just about always making sure you get the appropriate signatures. No, what I learned from my dad that day was that integrity can’t be negotiable. Doing the right thing can’t be optional and often there’s a price to be paid for doing the right thing.
I’ve thought about that homework slip a lot over the years. It comes to mind when I’ve got the chance to fudge some numbers at work, when I’m filling out my taxes, or pretty much any time that the little voice in my head suggests that the rules don’t apply to me, at least not in this situation. My dad taught me how to throw a spiral, how to change a tire and how to hammer a nail. Like all the best dads he taught me some lessons that weren’t terribly fun to learn, but those always end up being the most important.