The Only Thing No One Can Ever Take

The Only Thing No One Can Ever Take

My father was a tall, heavyset man, whose face was usually expressionless – intimidating to say the least. Dad was a man of few words, especially when it came to us kids. I think he was a true believer that children should be seen and not heard, which was kind of hard, since there were seven of us. For example, spring through fall, we would go to the lake on weekends. Dad always said that the fishing was better at night, so he would sleep during the day and then fish at night. Personally, I think he did it that way so he wouldn’t have to deal with us kids as much. I was the only one he would allow to stay up and fish with him, and he said it because I didn’t talk a lot.

I distinctly remember one of our family weekend camping trips to the lake. One particular hot summer night, it felt like it was 100 degrees out even though the sun was down. As we sat there holding our poles, Dad turned to me and said, “JJ, all that you have in this life, that no one can ever take away from you, is your name. It is up to you to make sure it’s a good one”. I was rather young at the time and wasn’t quite sure what he meant. It’s up to me, he and Mom named me, I had nothing to do with it. For that matter, it must not have been such a good name to begin with because Dad never used it, he always called me JJ. Still, I always remembered what he told me that night; I figured it was important since Dad was not a man to waste words.

As I matured, I realized he didn’t mean my name at all. He meant my reputation, the way that I treat others, the type of person I am, and so on. So I’ve lived my life trying to make sure that my name is a good one. I’ve worked hard to treat everyone with dignity and respect, and be the best person I know how to be. Over the years, I’ve volunteered as a coach for kids’ sports, a Girl Scout leader, and an emergency medical technician with the local volunteer rescue squad. I’ve always tried to help people anyway I can. Sure, there have been times that I’ve fallen short of this goal, after all, I’m only human, but I continue to try.

I also tried to pass on Dad’s lesson to my children. As a parent, I always wondered if I was doing a good job or not. That question was answered when I arrived home to my apartment building after work one muggy summer’s day. I noticed a moving truck while pulling into the parking lot. As I stepped down out of my minivan, a man approached, pointing at two scrawny middle-schoolers running up the stairs. He asked me, “Are those your boys?” and I acknowledged that yes they were, indeed, my boys. He said they had been helping him carry boxes and furniture up the stairs all day. He held out $80 and explained that he attempted to pay them for their help. He said they refused his money by saying, “No sir, we were taught this is what neighbors do for each other. Thanks for the offer but we’re just glad that we were able to help”. An overwhelming wave of pride came rushing over me, for at that very moment, I knew that my boys had learned Dad’s lesson too.

My dad was a man of few words, but when he spoke, it paid to listen. I believe his words that hot summer’s night at the lake helped shape me and my children into the people we are today.  I can honestly say, I’m proud of my good name.