My parents owned a bar and from the time I can remember which was about four years old I spent my time sitting on a bar stool. Most kids were playing with their friends or some toys that they had I was always talking to strangers and playing with beer boxes.
It did have its advantages, like as I got older I had a built in job and I really learned how to talk to adults. You always had to agree with them because you didn’t want to lose them as a customer. Always polite always considerate and never giving anyone a hard time, of course I learned how to curse like a sailor at a very young age and got a taste of beer when I was about ten years old.
The place had its characters that were both humorous and sad at the same time. I always thought it was normal for a guy to spend 4 or 5 hours drinking at the end of a work day before they went home. Many times as I got older I would drive some guy home who was to drunk to drive. When I got him home I found out why he spent that amount of time in the bar after work, his wife was less than happy to see him when he got there not because he was drunk she just didn’t like the guy.
One of the things I loved as a kid was the fact that there was always cash around. I would ask my dad for a dime or a quarter. He would reach into the till and hand it over.
One warm summer evening around 5 o’clock, I asked my dad for a quarter. Quickly, he said “No.” I asked again and he said “No.” I finally said “C’mon, Dad, please.”
He did not give in. I got as mad as an 11 year old could get and walked out passing four customers sitting at the bend in the bar right by the door. On my way out I called him “CHEAP.” At that moment, I knew I was in trouble.
I tried to think of words that sounded like “cheap” that I could use to try to convince him that he just heard wrong. Next, I had to find a way to get back in without him seeing me. Unfortunately, there was only one way in… through the bar.
After riding my bike for a while, I decided to try and get past the blockade. When I got back to the bar, the bar was closed! The bar that was open 364 days a year was closed! My father locked the door and made me knock to get in. I knocked on the door and he opened it. I asked him to hold the door open so I could bring in my bike. He stood there grabbed me by the arm and said to me, “What did you say on the way out of here.” I told him I said “cheap.”
The grip on my arm got tighter and he said to me “After all the nickels, dimes, and quarters I have given you call me cheap.” I said, “Sorry, Dad.” He then loosened his grip and told me to go upstairs.
My dad took a break around 7o’clock for dinner and took a nap until 9 pm when he went back downstairs to work. Around 8:30 I learned the biggest lesson of my life. He called me into his bedroom and sat me down. My dad said to me “Do you know why I locked the door to the bar after you left.” I said “no.” My father said to me “After you left the bar the four guys who heard what you said started talking about you and what an ungrateful and selfish kid you were. I couldn’t take it. I had to put them out. I just got sick hearing them talk like this about my son.”
My dad put those guys out in my defense and because of the ache he felt in his heart. My dad used my own stupidity as a time to teach me that I can’t say anything I want. Also, he wanted me to understand that, whether or not I think anybody else hears my comments, it doesn’t matter. Somebody hears and starts to develop a perception of you as a person.
I never forgot this lesson. You see all along I thought those guys would ride my dad on what a cheapskate they thought he was because he would not give me a quarter. I was so wrong. As I look at this story all I can think of is the way kids speak to their parents today at a younger age than I was when I called my dad “cheap.” Kids didn’t just wake up one day and decide that they were going to be rude to their parents.
This has happened so slowly it was almost unrecognizable at first but now we ask “What are we going to do with these kids.” I could have named this essay “Cheap” because of how ironic it is that I called my father cheap in front of his customers when he truly was not cheap and I, deservingly so, ended up feeling cheap when my father was done with me. Even though it is cheap to sit a kid down and talk to him today the way my dad did, does anyone take the time to do it anymore?
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