Can You Help Me, Sir?

“Why did that crying lady talk to you, Daddy?”

Oh, the precious innocence of childhood. My five year old was sincere in her question after I had been approached in the parking lot after completing our purchases at Petsmart.

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(Photo found via Google search)

As my son (age 11), two daughters (5 and 2) and I neared our van a woman rushed up to me and through well-rehearsed gasps, sobs and tears, explained that she had just been released from jail and was desperately trying to get back home to Everett (a city north of Seattle, about an hour from where I was in Tacoma), but her car needed gas and she didn’t have any money. “Could you please help me out? That man over there (she gestured at someone) gave me $5. The police gave me a quarter (she opened her palm to show me the shiny coin). But I don’t want to get arrested for panhandling and go back to jail. Please, sir, anything would help.”

Thanks to my son’s maturity and good sense, my little kids had gotten into their car seats while this charade played out in the parking lot beside my van. I told the woman (truthfully) that I didn’t have any cash on me and before I could say anything more she walked off in the direction of some other people in the parking lot.

Panhandle

Brazenly approaching her next target.

My kids have observed me helping out some of the plethora of people who panhandle in our area. They’re frequently standing at a busy intersection at the exit from that very shopping area (there’s also a Target, Hobby Lobby and a dozen other stores there) and at the end of exit ramps. On more than one occasion we have brought hot food and coffee to them. We’ve prepared bag lunches and had them in the van to give out during our excursions. Last year my oldest daughter wrote a song describing some memories she had of us helping homeless people and I blogged about it (read it here). Some might say I’m a sucker for trying to help those who appear to be in a rough spot. I’m guilty of giving a dollar or two to people at times because I choose to believe that people can actually be good and that it’s okay to try to be kind to others. I try to model compassion and kindness for others so my children will grow up with similar values and a willingness to help out others.

“But, Daddy, why didn’t you help her? Why didn’t you give her any money?” My sweet girl just wanted to help that woman. Unfortunately, I had to gently tell her the harsh reality that not all people are honest or trustworthy. In this particular case, this very same woman had approached me as I had returned to my car after shopping at Target with my 14 year old daughter and our exchange student. She told me the exact same story, only this most recent time had been more polished with emotion and tears and that shiny quarter. That previous time I had chosen to give her a couple of bucks (I told you I’m a sucker sometimes), even though red flags were there. I remember that I told her “God bless you”, wished her well and shook her hand. She seemed to be sincerely grateful and warmly returned my hand shake while I gave her the small amount of cash. I remember saying a quick prayer for her as I climbed into my van. After that exchange my 14 year old daughter and I talked about the issue of panhandlers and how there were multiple reports of people scamming and earning crazy amounts of money by playing off preying on the generosity, goodwill and kindness of strangers. Fool me once, shame on you.

Fool me twice, shame on me. I thought about confronting this scam artist and getting all up in her business. Maybe I would have if I hadn’t been in a time pinch to get my van from the repair shop before it closed in 20 minutes. It’s probably better that I just left it alone. I’m sure it wouldn’t have mattered to her or been the epiphany that turned her life around. I likely would’ve come off as just another sanctimonious white guy. In reality, I wasn’t really angry. Rather, I was filled with sadness for this woman who was essentially stealing from others. I don’t understand the mindset that one must have to choose this type of behavior, but, ultimately, I feel sorry for her. Still, the next time someone asks me for some help I’ll think about it. I’m less likely to reach into my pocket for any cash because of these kinds of experiences although I’m still willing to look for a meaningful way to help others. I wish there was some sort of happy ending to this story, a way that I could neatly wrap it in a bow that makes us all feel better. But that’s not the reality of this situation. Instead, I’m left with a heavy heart that I had to explain to my five year old that not all people tell the truth and that they are willing to lie to others to get some money. But, I’m glad that she could begin to learn that lesson in a safe environment with me to help her process it.

As we pulled away from our parking spot I noticed the woman walking across the parking lot toward her next Target. Literally and figuratively.

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Honesty, Always The Best Policy

I was listening to American Pie on my iPhone while driving three of my kids the final 75 miles to our home in Washington from our four day road trip to Northern California. The traffic was light and the sky was blue when out of the blue the music stopped and my phone rang. Even though I didn’t recognize the number I answered it since I already had my headphones in my ears. I’m glad I did. It was the manager of the La Quinta Inn & Suites we had stayed at the night before in Eugene, Oregon, calling to inform me that the person who had cleaned our room after we left found a blue iPod touch. He wanted to know if it belonged to us. I knew that my daughter had one like that and a quick question in her direction confirmed it. She didn’t even know that she had left it behind, thinking it was in her bag. After I told the manager it was, indeed, our device, he told me that he would get it in the mail to us later that day. I thanked him again for his call and hung up.

I glanced over at my daughter who was looking kind of sheepish, not knowing if I was going to be upset with her or lecture her. I wasn’t and I didn’t. I told her that I wasn’t at all upset with her. Accidents happen. Heck, I’d even given the room one last visual inspection before we left that morning and I hadn’t seen her forgotten iPod. There was no need for a lecture. She felt bad enough and there wasn’t anything that I needed to say. I just told her she was fortunate that the person cleaning the room was so honest. She smiled knowingly and I put my headphones back in and listened to some more tunes as we continued toward home. As I drove, I thought about how interesting it was that I was so surprised that the hotel employee had been so honest with my daughter’s iPod. After all, that device cost her several hundred dollars (she saved up for it and bought it on her own) and could have easily been sold on eBay or Craigslist for a nice “bonus” for that person who is likely making near minimum wage. But, instead, that person chose to do the right thing. No one would’ve known if he or she had pocketed that device. Instead, that person had integrity. You know, doing the right thing even when no one else is around. Seems like that’s a lost character trait these days. This particular employee, however, got it right. I believe that is a reflection on the company and the management that hired him or her.

I’m not getting any compensation from La Quinta for writing this blog post. They don’t even know that I’m a blogger or that I’m writing this. I’m not even going to make this into a formal review of the hotel, although it was nice. I got a clean room and my kids and I enjoyed the pool, hot tub and comfy beds. The hotel held up its end of the deal. Enough about that. But what really struck a chord with me was how this cleaning person had taken the iPod to the manager who then called me. My daughter learned a lesson without the pain of losing a valuable device while I was encouraged that there are still good, honest people still out there. I’m grateful for their honesty and integrity and will happily bring my family back to La Quinta Inn & Suites on future trips because of this positive experience. Ultimately, the reason I want to share this story with you is that a good report that is publicly shared on social media is the best way that I can say “THANK YOU” to the people involved whose actions ensured a “touching” reunion for my daughter and her forgotten iPod.

Honestly, Do The Right Thing

While at a local park last week my three year old daughter learned the hard way why it’s best to leave her toys in the car. Not even 15 minutes into our time there she had her purse full of goodies (lip stuff, a wooden fan and some hair things) stolen. She had set it down while playing on the swings with her friend and it was gone when she looked for it again a little later on. I’m assuming that another chid took it out of curiosity or envy. That doesn’t bother me as much as the idea that her parent was willing to basically condone that behavior by allowing the child to keep the purse that didn’t belong to her. If my child had done that, you can bet that she would have returned that purse the moment I discovered what she had done. Along with an apology. I’m a good teacher when it comes to apologizing. Lots of practice. Just ask my kids. Or my mom.

A friend of mine, Adrienne, posted on Facebook last week that the cashier at the gas station accidentally put her $45 in the wrong pump. No big deal, except that the person who benefitted from that mistake gladly pumped the extra gas before taking off. $50 of gas for only $5! Merry Christmas, right? Thankfully, my friend kept her cool with the cashier (way to go!) and eventually got reimbursed, so at least her story has a happy ending. During the two and a half years that we’ve lived here in Washington my wife’s car (a small SUV) has been hit three times by hit-and-run drivers while her car was parked. And there was not even as much as a note left. Just the calling card of the hit-and-run artist. I could go on and on, as I’m sure all of you readers could as well, sharing stories of times that we’ve been wronged, victims of other people’s inability unwillingness to do the right thing.

So, what’s the big deal? Why is it important to be honest and do the right thing? Does it really matter? I would argue that it does matter if we live lives of integrity and honesty. In general, as a society we depend of the decency of others in order to make it through our daily lives. Following traffic laws is a pretty easy example. Sure, I go 27 in a 25 zone (not in Fircrest, WA or Rosendale, WI, but that’s another story!) or slightly over the posted speed limit when I’m driving. But I stop at red lights and stop signs and such. You get the idea. And, for the most part, so does everyone else. And as a result, we can get around without too many problems. But I’d rather focus on the opportunities we have, as parents, to show our children how to live and how to do the right thing. After all, they’re always watching us, whether we like it or not.

One time a few years ago while out to eat, my son took his water cup up to the soda fountain to get more water but came back with a cup full of lemonade. Instead of looking the other way, he and I went to the cashier and he explained what had happened and paid for his drink. Once we got home he paid me from his own money for the drink. He no longer swipes drinks from the soda fountain unless it’s been paid for. Lesson learned. There have been numerous times over the years that I’ve been a Stay At Home Dad when I’ve received too much change back (on the rare occasions that I pay with cash) and I always give it back. Even if that means hauling the kids back into the store if I don’t catch it right away. There was one instance, back in 2003, when I was early in my SAHD gig that I bought two items on my way to the airport to go out of town for five days. Problem was, when I got to the airport, I looked at the receipt and realized that I had only been charged for one of the items. The day after I returned, I brought the items and the receipt (along with two young kids) and explained to the customer service rep what had happened and wanted to pay for the item. She looked at me like I was crazy and told me that she didn’t know how to do that; that I should just keep the item for free for being so honest. I insisted that I rightfully should’ve paid for the item in the first place and didn’t want to contribute to price mark-ups to make up for stolen items. She shook her head and got her manager, who exclaimed that she had never seen anyone ever! return an item trying to pay for it. After several minutes of furious typing something into the computer at the checkout they finally took my money. I still think of that experience every time I wear that Packers hat or my kids toss that talking Packers football. While it did cost me a few bucks, doing the right thing wasn’t too painful or costly. But that’s not always the case.

A few months after moving here I took an out of town guest and some of our kids to play in the snow at Mount Rainier National Park. While leaving the mostly empty parking lot I managed to back into the rear quarter panel of an unoccupied car that was parked in the lot. It would’ve been easy to check it out and leave. But that thought never crossed my mind. Once I calmed my kids down I wrote a note with my contact information and left it on the person’s car. Later that evening I received an email from the car’s owner. She was very upset (understandable) and a little bit rude to me about my accident. I kindly responded that yes, I did hit her. But she should be thankful that I was raised well by loving parents who taught me good values. So, instead of leaving the scene I owned up to my mistake and did the right thing. I explained that we had been hit-and-run victims multiple times in the first four months of living in Washington, so karma clearly wasn’t working for us in that situation. While it was an expensive mistake to make, the fact that I was able to keep my composure, be honest and do the right thing in front of my children was a priceless lesson for my kids to learn.

Every day we’re faced with situations that are often unpleasant and sometimes even out of our control. I’d encourage you to try to be honest and do the right thing. Even if your kids are not there to watch you, chances are that someone else is. Besides, it feels good. So just do it. (Sorry, Nike.)