A Stocking Stuffer Saved My Life

Posted: 12/07/2014 in Life lessons

… In the spirit of the Christmas season which is presently upon us, I thought this might be a good one to share …

Without getting into a lot of detail let me tell you that I engaged in my fair share of teenage mischief and mayhem. The main difference between me and many of the other guys is that I didn’t get caught.  At one point, I had grown so angry with my dad that I wanted to become everything he was not. I made a conscious choice and effort to become the “anti-dad.” Unfortunately, relative to that decision, my dad is a very good man. At the peek of my rebellion I became ungraciously hateful toward him and very intolerant to even be in his presence. Adding to my predicament was the fact that I really had no credible reason to feel this way. Most of my angst stemmed from the fact that my dad was so busy providing for his family that he didn’t have time for me…or so I believed. I mean, he was there, he just wasn’t there the way I wanted or thought he should be. He didn’t teach me to throw a curve ball or shoot a jump shot or engage in many of those childhood father-son activities.  In fact, I can remember only one high school basketball game he attended.  I don’t know…maybe you can chalk it up to teenage selfishness on steroids…or hormones. I guess those excuses are as good as any.

Well, as you know, every power struggle comes to an inevitable climax. Ours was on Christmas Day 1979. I was sixteen years old. That was the day a stocking stuffer saved my life!  Okay, okay… that’s a little dramatic but it certainly impacted a turn-around.  On that fateful day, after opening presents, mom handed out the stockings and there it was…jutting right out of the top. I was unimpressed. In disbelief and in a tone produced only from the disgusted, cold, and empty heart of a teenage know-it-all, I whined, “What the heck is thiiiiiiis for?” I managed to produce a facial expression I figured was a smile. It was actually more akin to a smirk.  A genuine smile is not accompanied by rolling eyes. Dad simply responded, “Read it, son…just (gritting teeth) read it.”

The gift looked cheap. The little wooden plaque was so cheesy. Cheap and cheesy.  An ample and accurate description.  It looked and felt like nothing more than darkly stained balsa wood. I had produced much superior work in wood shop. It was not much larger than my hand and on it was fastened a golden tin plate inscribed with our last name.  Beneath the name was a poem.  Any teenagers out there happy to get poetry for Christmas?  Dad later told me that he had ordered it from a T.V. Guide advertisement. That’s enough to make the Grinch’s heart beat again, right? I didn’t know whether to be offended or laugh at the fact that he paid money for it. Although, it didn’t appear he paid much. At any rate, in that moment, gratitude was off the table.  Feeling stuck…and hungry, I did the only thing I could to get out of the situation. I just read it …and read it …and read it, again. To this day I have no idea how it happened but something came over me as I read those words. I felt emotions I had only heard about and certainly didn’t know I was capable of. Eight lines of prose formed the tip of the spear that would penetrate a stony, selfish, teenage, heart. Like a mason’s drill boring its way through concrete.  They were words that captured and communicated the dichotomy of a father’s heartfelt desperation and desire and in them, I heard hope. Here is what they said…

Martinez

You got it from your father, it was all he had to give.
So it’s yours to use and cherish, for as long as you may live.
If you lose the watch he gave you, it can always be replaced.
But a black mark on your name, son, can never be erased.
It was clean the day you took it, and a worthy name to bear.
When he got it from his father, there was no dishonor there.
So make sure you guard it wisely, after all is said and done.
You’ll be glad the name is spotless, when you give it to your son.

Tears.  Yes, believe it.  Tears.  This was definitely a turning point in my life. However, it’s not as though I made an immediate change. I didn’t really start turning the corner until two years later. In the mean time, for the most part, I continued to do what I wanted to do, when and where I wanted to do it. But…the impression was made. The seeds were planted.  And, in time, they would bear fruit.  For the moment, though, I at least became more aware and concerned about how my behavior and actions would impact the reputation of our name. Our name. That very realization probably kept me out of more trouble than I care to imagine.  I’m convinced of that.

…”A black mark on your name, son, can never be erased.”

…”You’ll be glad the name is spotless, when you give it to your son.”

My son, Aaron, is now twenty five years old and truer words have never been spoken.

We seldom realize the significant impact a seemingly insignificant moment can have on a life.  Any life.  Any moment.  Too often, what we see as random, God has intended by Providence.  Perhaps, this memory and many others like it are the reason I want to make a difference in this world.  In another post I will write about how micro-moments can provoke MACRO-MOVEMENTS.  This was certainly one of those moments in my life.  One of many I can now appreciate in retrospect. Hindsight, as they say…

As I compose this article that insignificant little plaque from that insignificant little moment remains a significant part of my life. I have had it now for over thirty years and it represents the only gift I ever received as a youth that I still possess. It is never far from me and through the course of my life, it has been instrumental in bringing me back to center.  I’ve shared this story with my son.  Several times. He’s seen the plaque IMG_20141207_214218887and understands its significance in my life…and in his. Some day I will pass the plaque on to him…

…He already bears the name…

And, I’m glad…

~Food For Thought…

~joe

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