“My dad had limitations. That’s what my good-hearted mom always told us. He had limitations, but he meant no harm. It was kind of her to say, but he did do harm.”
The Lumberyard Heist
In looking back on some of the ethically questionable things that I’ve done in my lifetime, I’m first pulled towards those experiences that shaped me as an adolescent growing up. I’m reminded of one camping trip in particular that I had taken with my Dad not far from home while I was in my younger teen years if I do recall it correctly.
Now this camping trip was no different then any other that we had often taken. We had a camp site at a provincial park where we took part in campground activities, visit the beach frequently and take plenty of hikes or bike rides. Sometimes we would have roaring fires and we would eat our share of junk food around it as one usually does while camping.
However, on this particular night camping, my Father had decided to take us on an adventure that was a little different then usual. We were in need of more wood for the fire and being the very frugal, slightly crooked man that my Dad is – he came up with an idea for us to obtain some wood for free from the park’s lumberyard. So just before dusk my father, my younger brother and I set off into the woods to make our way through a thick forest where we would come out the other side near a main road just as dusk had settled.
By this point, my father had already put it into our heads that we would need to be sneaky, as if we were pulling off some daring “Oceans 11” style operation. Before we appeared next to the main road, we were creeping along the tree line and waiting for any cars to pass us by. With the cover of night, we crept across the road and made our way to a large gated fence that was locked shut with a heavy chain and padlock. My father pulled the gate out as hard as he could underneath the lock to create just enough space between the gates for my brother and I to squeeze through.
I remember the excitement that I had felt having never done anything illegal like this before in my life. I was a “good boy” by nature and living mostly with my Mother, we were definitely not exposed to breaking many rules. I usually just spent most of my time playing video games or messing around on computers. I remember running about collecting bags of wood from around the lumberyard and than returning them to my father at the gate so that we could make our getaway.
I was scared of getting caught, but at least being that young I knew that if anyone was going to get in trouble for doing what we were doing that it would be my Dad. So, I didn’t care as much. After my brother and I had crawled back through the locked gate to the lumberyard, we hauled our bags of firewood down to the side of the road and found a good place along the treeline to stash our loot. Afterwards, we made our way back through the woods into the darkness and back to our campsite where we climbed into my Father’s van and drove back to that road so that we could secure our haul for the night.
We had probably stolen 25-30$ worth of firewood that night. It’s not something that I would have ever thought to do on my own but it did teach me how fun it could be to be a little bad at times. It also made me feel kind of courageous and strong at that time because I was never the type to do something like that out of fear of getting caught. Yet no one had caught us and nothing bad had happened. We only profited in our success.
Now if you were to ask me whether or not this was a good lesson to teach a child as they grow up, then I would say to you, “Hell no!”. My Dad committed minor frauds and thefts like these just to save a few bucks sometimes and it always seemed to be quite fun for him. He never really stole from the needy as far as I can recall, it was usually big companies or businesses that could afford small losses. I think that he thought of himself as sort of a selfish Robin Hood, stealing from the rich to give to himself. No one usually ended up getting hurt because of it, but sometimes it did bother me to be part of these schemes growing up.
As a result of some of these lessons from my childhood, I think that I became more comfortable with breaking the law at times in small ways. It almost felt as if it were a right of passage in becoming a man to overcome that fear of getting caught, otherwise I might be labeled a wimp or something of that sort.
When I was a teenager I had a year long period of drug abuse that took control of me for a while. I would drink or do drugs around town or in friend’s homes. Not just weed but a variety of substances that can mess up one’s life. I hung out with ethically impaired people and on a couple of occasions I had stolen minor items from stores just to prove to myself or others that I wasn’t too afraid. I also dabbled with telling lies at times to try and save my ass from trouble, but I was never a very good liar and the guilt displayed on my face often made those lies far too obvious.
It took me a while to realize that I didn’t want to be that kind of person, that honesty, integrity and self-respect was more important to me, to be the man that I wanted to be. It also took me a while to realize that being a delinquent or a drug user wasn’t really that cool at all. Eventually I did figure all of this out on my own, but first I had to really find myself separate from those who I had been surrounded by, and even those who had raised me.
Now it’s all just a part of my history and since I am happy with the type of man that I am today, I wouldn’t change it for the world. I would never do these sort of things with my daughter as she grows into a mature woman because I would like to instill in her a sense of ethical and moral responsibility. Yet I have no desire to wish that I had a different sort of upbringing because that is just a waste of my time.
My father was never the greatest example of what constitutes a real man, in my opinion, although he would surely disagree. In his opinion, any man unlike him was not a man at all. Macho-ism, selfishness, control and arrogance were trademark traits of masculinity in his mind. Yet to me, I found more virtue in humility, strong personal values, support, love, respect and honesty. In my opinion, without these traits, one is only just the shadow of a real man but perhaps, that is a blog post for another day!
Have you ever been taught unethical life lessons?
If you have, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.