Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Responsibility 101

Growing up, my sisters and I got a once-a-month allowance from my parents.

Often, as the errand sidekick, I would ride along as my mom or dad drove up to the drive-through teller to deposit their paychecks. This was before the days of the ATM -- my parents carefully calculated how much cash they would need until the next month's pay date. With their receipt came a little, white envelope of crisp bills.

When we got home, my parents would line us all up (in age order, as always) and hand out our month's take.

I don't remember how old I was when my parents started this practice, but I do remember that my sisters got more. I asked my father about it, shortly after realizing this fact. His answer struck me, he did not feel I was responsible enough. Me? Not responsible? Clearly my father didn't know what he was talking about.

Sure, he would sometimes have to remind me to put my money in my wallet instead of just holding it in my hand. Or not to count my money out in the open when I was trying to figure out if I had enough to make a purchase. Or not to leave my wallet lying around unattended.

Of course I was responsible. All these little things were just minor details. Every month that passed where I received less than my siblings, I felt cheated, misunderstood, and under appreciated. I couldn't believe my father couldn't see that I was at least as responsible as my sisters.

Then one month, after what seemed to be many months, my dad called me aside before handing me my allotment. After he explained that he believed it was time for me to demonstrate how responsible I could be, he handed me a full allowance. A full allowance! I was elated!

I was so elated that I went outside to play, ride my bike, and who knows what else -- with this deliverance gripped firmly in my hands. Or so I thought. Who knows how long it took me to realize my hands were empty, but when I did, I began to look around frantically. I looked on the street, under the car, in the grass, between the couch cushions, all the while trying to escape the notice of my father. It was already bad enough to realize he had been right about me before; I didn't want him to know that I had failed his test

My father caught on. He called me aside and explained the ramifications. Since I had demonstrated I wasn't ready yet, he was going to revert me to my original allowance.

Many more months passed. But instead of feeling it wasn't fair each time I received 1/2 the allowance my sisters were given, I remembered that I hadn't been able to demonstrate that I could manage more. Now ultra careful with my money, I hoped he would notice and looked forward to having another shot at showing him I could be responsible.

As frustrating as the experience was, I am grateful for my first chance failure. For one thing, it was my first lesson that I cannot just assume my own competency. More importantly, it helped me realize that I wasn't entitled to to my father's trust and that he wasn't obligated to give it to me.

When my father eventually gave me a second chance, I was able to meet his expectations and earn his trust. Over 20 years later, I still have it and have every intention of keeping it.

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