My father and I were in the house one day near the beginning of spring. It was a beautiful weekend day, and I was a teenager – 15 or 16 as I recall. The doorbell rang and my father answered to find two young boys, about 10, wearing somewhat threadbare baseball uniforms. Parked at the street was a running car with an adult male inside.
The two boys explained that they were out attempting to raise money to fund their Little League team that year. They were looking to raise $700, and one of the boys carried a donation jar.
Now, my father absolutely loves encouraging this sort of thing. He beamed when he told the boys, “I’ve got good news for you. I’ve got a bunch of chores I need done around the yard – carrying out some old boxes from my garage, cleaning up some weeds along the fence, and so on. Go get your whole team over here to do these chores and I’ll fund the whole thing, you won’t have to go to any other houses today.”
The kids’ eyes went wide. They practically raced down to the waiting car to tell their chaperone (one of the kids’ dads, it would turn out) of their great fortune. I smiled too – this was so characteristically my dad. He was willing to pay about 10x as much as the chores were worth in order to support some local youths out doing something good. (Plus, I’d otherwise be doing those chores for free, so I was happy!)
But it didn’t last.
Less than a few minutes later there was an angry knock at the door. My father opened it to find the two boys looking downtrodden, and the dad looking angry. This guy proceeded to scold my father – to yell at him! – for suggesting that the kids actually work for the money. They were just out trying to collect donations, he said. He wasn’t trying to put the kids to work, heaven forbid.
Now, these weren’t exactly difficult chores. My father wasn’t suggesting they go into a coal mine. He wasn’t even going to have them use anything sharp, for crying out loud. Pull weeds, carry out old boxes of junk to the curb, pick up sticks that my dog consistently left in the yard, that sort of stuff. A few hours tops of easy labor for a whole team, and then no more fundraising. My father was donating – he was just doing it through the vehicle of self-respect and an honest day’s work. Values my father believed in tremendously.
And this other dad apparently didn’t.
My father was the not the kind of guy to ever hand someone a dollar. But he’d run his car through a charity car wash five times in a row and tip an extra ten bucks each time. When a friend of his fell on hard times when she lost her job, he made sure she could get as much money as she needed to pay her bills – by cleaning for us. The dignity of work, and the motivation it brings to improve your station, were things that mattered to him. They didn’t seem to matter to this other man, who stood yelling about my father’s attitude while my father stared at the guy in shock and the kids looked embarrassed.
To my father’s credit, he didn’t yell back. I feel like if those kids weren’t standing there this might have gone differently, but my father simply said “Sorry I couldn’t help you out, good luck,” and shut the door.
I like to think that despite the guy’s insistence on having a terrible attitude, that those kids did in fact learn a lesson about dignity and self-respect that day. They wanted to work. They immediately saw what a good deal they’d lucked into, and they clearly were disappointed that it didn’t work out. The man might have tried to lecture them on “not letting people take advantage of you” or some nonsense, but I like to think that they knew, in their hearts, the truth. That the only person who had cheated them that day was the guy driving the car.