Read the First Line Twice, Please

Not Smart Enough for College (1)

I am embarrassed about my role in this story but share it as part of our learning to fail forward together journey.


Did you read that first line twice?


I hope so and thank you.


I believe it’s important to share stories like the one that follows, especially with our families so we can remind each other that we all make mistakes, and we can learn from them and keep trying to do better. 


This memory involves my two-year-old son Paul, my tongue, and me. The setting was the largest cake equipment supplier in our city. We were on an errand for my first wife, Carol, to purchase some equipment she needed that day. 


When we got to the store, we couldn’t find what we wanted, so I asked a salesperson for help. He told me the item was out of stock and suggested some alternatives. I had learned from past experience to check with Carol before purchasing any substitutes.


Now this was in that prehistoric era known as the Pre-Cell Phone Age, so the salesperson gave me permission to use the store phone. I had just finished dialing (yes, with an actual rotary dial) when one of the store owners asked if I would hurry because he needed to make a call. I nodded to let him know I would hurry. About ten seconds later he came back and told me I had taken long enough and needed to get off. I complied before even getting to discuss the options with Carol.


Most people who know me are aware that my quick tongue can get me into and out of trouble, usually out of more trouble than in!


While I take full responsibility for what happened next, it seemed, in the moment, that my independent tongue started wagging and before I could stop it, it impolitely blurted out, “That’s a stupid way to run a business!” I must have touched a nerve because this guy, who was four or five inches taller and at least 70 pounds heavier than me, started spouting words that were inappropriate for a two-year-old to hear. I turned and walked away. 


Unsatisfied, he continued spewing nasty words, yelling so loud everyone in the store could hear him. By now I was fuming and, I’m sorry to say, without thinking of the consequences, my tongue added fuel to the fire by yelling, “Ah! Stick it in your ear!” 


Obviously, this did not calm him down. He followed me up the aisle, his volume increasing and his language getting so creative that everyone in the store stopped what they were doing to listen and wonder what I could have done to get this person so upset. 


Fortunately for me, he stopped about twenty feet from the door, which gave me some temporary relief, but my tongue wasn’t quite finished. As I was going out the door, I turned my head and yelled, “Ah! Stick it in your other ear!” 


This time the guy went berserk. He followed us to our car, spouting his colorful language, charging towards me, shaking his fist, and letting me know that he wanted to put it in my mouth. 


When we got to the car, I put Paul safely inside but didn't have time to get out of the guy’s way. I was in the perfect position to get my teeth knocked out. What happened next makes me grateful my tongue shifted out of “get me into trouble” mode and into “get me out of trouble” mode, i.e., to bravely and intelligently bluff. With a boldness that belied my inner feelings, my tongue said, “Go ahead and hit me, but if you do, I will sue you for everything you’ve got.”


This stopped him on the spot. I watched as he wrestled to make his own shift, as clenched fist and cocked arm gave way to more rational thought. Struggling for composure, he threw out his final volley, “Get out of here and don’t ever come back.”


I took Paul, my tongue, and my pride and obeyed his command.


Acting out in anger is never an appropriate solution to a problem, and, as happened here, generally makes a difficult situation worse. As I said at the beginning, even though I am embarrassed about my actions, I strongly believe it’s important to share experiences like this with our families. They need to understand that we as parents are imperfect and make mistakes, sometimes even serious ones. Owning our part and sharing our story creates an opportunity for us to also share the lessons to be learned and the power of failing forward with our children.


Happy Failing Forward Together,


Calvert and Anne

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