This post is the tenth in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.
My father was one of the most honest persons I have known. Of course he wasn’t perfect, but there was a part of him that wanted to make sure that what he said and what he did were consistent with one another. He had integrity and taught me about it too with his life.
When I was about six years old, my family was visiting my father’s sister, Aunt Malissa who lived in Moundville just outside of Tuscaloosa, AL. Aunt Malissa and her husband, Uncle Rufus, owned a cafe and drug store called “Miss Malissa’s Cafe.” It is still one of the best places to eat near Tuscaloosa fifty years later even though it is obviously under different ownership.
While we were there and no one was looking, I decided I wanted to take a couple of things from the store and I discreetly slipped them into my pocket. When we got to the car, I pulled the stolen property out as we were about to drive off (not smart). My father looked back at me in the car and said, “What do you have there?” I showed him and he asked me if I had paid for it. I ducked my head and said, “No sir.”
He turned off the car and asked me calmly to get out of the car. He explained, “Malcolm, we don’t take things without paying for them. We are going to go back into the store and I will be with you. I want you to give this to Aunt Malissa and tell her you are sorry that you took this without paying for it.” It was my first lesson in coming clean.
I was so embarrassed but I knew my father was right. What I appreciated was that he didn’t shame me, or give me a long lecture. And the fact that he was willing to go with me helped a lot.
I walked into the store and my Aunt Malissa said, “Hello Malcolm, I thought you had left.” With a trembling voice and a quivering lip, I pulled the stolen goods out of my pocket and said, “I’m sorry Aunt Malissa, but I didn’t pay for this. I am sorry. Will you forgive me?” Remember I was six.
She looked at my father and back at me and her face softened. She bent down and said with misty eyes, “Yes Malcolm, I forgive you. I love you.” I threw my arms around her neck and hugged her hard. She added, “Thank you for being honest and apologizing.” I felt relieved, free, and forgiven. It was one of my first encounters with grace.
Aunt Malissa was my favorite aunt primarily because she reminded me so much of my dad, calm, kind, and loving. She was the last of the Marler children in my father’s family to die in 2002. I had the privilege of giving the eulogy at her funeral. The picture to the right was taken at her 90th birthday party. She and I had a very close bond because we shared a love of my father. And years later we could remember the above story and smile.
I remember my first lesson in honesty and integrity and doing the right thing with my father and Aunt Malissa.
Many times in my life I heard my father apologize to other people whom he had hurt and asked for their forgiveness, including me. And now when I fall short and do the wrong thing, I know what I need to do.
I have had to ask for forgiveness a lot in my life.
My father taught me so.
Can you share an experience when you did the wrong thing and were forgiven? Do you remember what that felt like? What did you do? What effect did it have on your life? What does this story remind you of in your life?
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