Consequences Happen

| 20 Sep 2012 | 02:17

    To this day, I don't remember what the argument was about. I just remember that it was a good one. Or a bad one, depending on your perspective.
    What I do remember is that I was standing at the front door of the condo in which I lived with my parents. I was the youngest of their eight children, and as their kids grew up and moved away they downsized. So when I was a senior in high school, it was just me, my 57-year-old Mom and my 63-year-old Dad in a two-bedroom condo.
    And life was good. I really loved my parents. I didn't give them much trouble, and in return they cut me a lot of slack when it came to curfews and school activities. Best of all, I mostly had free use of our second car, a 1962 Cadillac that barely ran but looked cool enough with its dual headlights and sharp-pointed fins that my friends and I called it The Dragon.
    Which was a better nickname than the one we had for my friend Dave's Dodge: The Dog.
    I mention The Dragon because I suspect that's what Mom and I were arguing about as we stood there at the front door of the condo. It was really the only thing she and I ever argued about – well, that and why wouldn't she ever let me watch "Laugh-In." Mom and I had to share The Dragon, and most of the time she just let me take it. But occasionally she said she needed it.
    And I'm thinking this was probably one of those times.
    That would explain why we were standing at the front door. I almost never used the front door because the back door was closer to where the cars were parked. So if I was at the front door, that meant I was coming in from having walked. Which means I wasn't in a very good mood because, despite what you might think, I'm not much of a walker. If you don't believe me, just ask my elliptical walking machine, which can be heard begging, "Use me! Use me! Use me!" every time I walk past it. Which is what I almost always do: walk past it.
    Whatever we were arguing about, the words got heated enough to attract Dad's attention, and he wandered over to the front door and stood behind Mom. That was sort of how it worked in our family. Mom was the one who would challenge and cajole and discipline the children. Dad, who was often out of town on business, usually stood behind her – literally and figuratively. Although he wasn't always there on the front lines of child rearing, I don't remember him ever taking a position in opposition to anything Mom had decided or done in his absence.
    So Mom and I were arguing, and in the course of that argument I called my Mom a.. well, you get the idea. And no sooner had that word escaped my lips but I felt the swift, strong hand of my father against my cheek. It was the only time I can remember my father striking me, and it stunned me as much as it hurt me – and it hurt me a lot.
    We all stood there for a moment, staring at each other. Mom was in tears, clearly torn between her desire to comfort me and slap me herself. Dad's face was an almost frightening mix of anger and anguish. And I had tears in my eyes from the pain my father had inflicted on my face as well as the self-inflicted pain in my heart for what I had said to my beloved mother.
    Finally I looked my Dad directly in the eye. I was three inches taller than he was then, so I had to look down a little. "I deserved that," I said.
    I really believed that – not necessarily from a child discipline standpoint, but from a choices/consequences standpoint. Mom had drilled it into me enough through my teenage years: "You can choose your actions, but you can't choose the consequences of your actions." I had made a choice – albeit impulsively – to say something dumb. And there was an instantaneous consequence for that choice. Whether or not I liked the consequence or felt it was an appropriate or proportional response to what I said was irrelevant. Consequences happen.
    Sometimes I think that in our rush to wrap ourselves in liberty we forget that freedom doesn't happen in a vacuum. We make choices, and those choices affect others, and they react – not always positively. Recognizing that our choices have consequences – some of them unintended, but consequential nonetheless – is a good lesson that life teaches us.
    Or a bad one, depending on your perspective.
    (To read more by Joseph B. Walker please go to