Summary: Integrity is not what we do. Integrity is who we are.
It’s About Integrity
April 10, 2005
You are going to think that I made this up, but I promise you that this is a true story. A few years ago, I got a phone call from the father of a fourteen year old boy. He was the father of one of my son’s friends and thought that I should know about an incident that had taken place at their house so that I could be on the lookout in case it happened at ours.
I appreciated his concern at first, but then the conversation got really weird. He had caught his kid smoking and wanted to talk to me about it because mom and dad were terribly distressed about this. I asked dad where his son got the cigarettes since it is supposed to be illegal for anyone under age eighteen to purchase them. It turned out that the kid had been stealing his parent’s smokes while they were out of the house.
“But,” dad said, “it gets worse.” His mother had found some marijuana in his dresser drawer. Over the phone, dad was outraged, using some pretty vile and obscene language about what he ought to do to his son. Then he told me that the kid had found his stash awhile back, but that was no excuse.
It was fairly apparent to me anyway that this boy was saying that if it was alright for his parents to smoke dope, then it was alright for him to do it too.
I knew that this guy was serious, but I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. When I didn’t say anything for a long time – because I honestly was taken by surprise – the guy asked me if my kids had ever found my stash. I told him that I don’t smoke dope. He kept pushing and said, “Well, when you did, did your kids find it?” I said that I don’t do drugs now and had never done them. He was incredulous and the conversation continued. Here is a verbatim of the next couple of minutes, although I’ll leave out the swearing. I still remember what was said, because as soon as I hung up the phone, I wrote it down. I just knew that it would preach some day.
Him – “You mean you never smoked a little dope?”
Me - “No”
Him - “How old are you?”
Me – “44”
Him - “You never smoked dope when you were younger?”
Me - “Nope”
Him - “You must be about the only person who didn’t.”
Me - “You’d probably be surprised.”
Him - “Well, I don’t know what to do about my kid.”
Me - “You know, our actions always speak louder than our words.”
Him - “Yeah?”
Me - “It’s really hard to have integrity around our kids when we don’t practice what we preach. They can see right through that.”
Him - (still not getting it) – “Well, my old man was a drunk, but that’s not the reason I drink.”
Me - “Oh?”
Him - “Yeah. A kid’s got to take a little responsibility himself.”
Me - “If we want our kid’s to learn to be responsible, we need to model that behavior ourselves.”
Him - (still not getting it) “Well, I don’t know what I’m going to do about that kid. I feel like kicking him into next week.”
A really sad note to all of this, in addition to the obvious, is that this fellow was incredibly successful in his business. He lived on the river in a huge house with an eight car garage in which he stores his classic automobiles. In Elkhart, some of the wealthiest homes are on the banks of the St. Joseph River. If you haven’t got $375,000, you can’t even begin to look for a house in that neighborhood. The best places go for a million or more.
Unfortunately, the message that was being sent was that one can use drugs and still be successful. One can be a drunk and still live in a great house. One can have a business and make a lot of money without worrying about personal integrity. The message to the family is that words don’t mean anything. The true message that was being sent was: “You can’t trust me. You can’t believe me. I have no integrity. It’s alright for me to smoke, drink, and use drugs…but I’d better not catch you doing it. Do as I say and not as I do.”
The mother of a thirteen year old girl was talking to a school psychologist about the behavior of her daughter. Mom had found out that the girl had become sexually active with older boys. As they talked, it came out that mom had carried on a relationship with a married man for a long time.