“Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Teacher speaks on Father’s Day in our home church about “Leaving a Legacy.” He will tell our story as a family of five and the decisions he’s made as the father of our three children. I will listen proudly while he shares his heart with integrity, but I will also think about my own father. Below is his true story of integrity, shared with me just one year ago:
Dad, my step-mother and I sat together over a leisurely meal hours before they caught a red-eye back to Pennsylvania after a fabulous trip west. It had been their favorite visit so far, not just because of the two week train adventure to get here, but credited to the bonded relationship we share even as miles separate.
I took them to The Red House in Renton, Washington, a former 1920’s boarding house for railroad workers and coal miners. It was the perfect location considering the years my dad boarded Penn State students in his own brick house on College Avenue. The restaurant awakened his memories of converting that college home into something similar as we shared a delicious meal in which was once this converted home’s living room.
“I have a story for you,” Dad leaned back after filling his belly with his required “on time” meal. “I don’t know if you remember as a kid the mug I always had on the work bench in the garage. I kept miscellaneous screws, bolts, and nails in the oversized beer mug.”
“I don’t remember it,” I said, leaning back myself in anticipation of another Dad story.
“I stole that mug fifty years ago from a bar in Chicago.
I was a new employee with Merck, on a business trip with important executive types. After a fun night of beer drinking and business we each walked out of that bar with a stolen mug.
I’ve had that mug on a workbench storing miscellaneous screws and nails for fifty years but every time I walk past I feel a little pit in my stomach, so when I realized we’d be passing through Chicago on our train trip west I decided to see if the bar was still in business.” Dad paused while the light bulb went off in my mind.
“You brought that mug back didn’t you?!” I asked.
Believe it or not, The Berghoff is not only still in business, but one of the most historically rich places in Chicago. With old black and white photos of Chicago’s city life and original woodwork, this over a century old establishment transports guests back in time.
Before I finish the story you have to understand something. My dad NEVER packs extra things when he travels. He is all about efficiency and simplicity. He’ll wear the same shirt days and days in a row until someone suggests he does otherwise… just ask his wife! Outward appearance and empty platitudes don’t impress my father.
Obviously integrity does! So much so that he was willing to trudge a fifty year old mug with him on half of his trip stuffed into the tight quarters of a sleeper car.
After a sip of Merlot and his favorite expression of sheepish satisfaction my dad continued his tale…
“Diane and I walked through the streets of Chicago to find The Berghoff where we decided to have lunch for our fist day in the city. Up on two bar stools we sat while I placed the mug quietly but obviously in front of me. The young bartender was really busy with a full bar made up of business men on a lunch break.
The bartender served us for quite a while without breaking his stride for conversation but always taking a sideways glance toward the mug. Finally, he paused when curiosity got the best of him and asked, ‘What is this?’
It’s a beer mug I stole from this bar fifty years ago. I’m bringing it back.
This statement got immediate attention from the group of middle-aged men next to me.”
“Are you crazy!! They don’t make those mugs anymore. Do you know what you could sell that thing for on e-bay?!” They shouted. “Why are you giving it back?”
My dad leaned into the table where we now sat in the converted living room miles away from Chicago and said, “I told those men…‘Because it feels GOOD!”
And there’s the lesson… integrity of the mind. There is nothing quite like it. Nothing quite as satisfying as a clear and clean conscience. What a modern day illustration. A picture of youthful foolishness turned to aged wisdom…
…on a bar stool in Chicago.
My dad said the bartender’s entire countenance changed after my father’s confession with an eager hand-off of the mug for the restaurant to do with it as they saw fit. Free beers were served to my dad and his wife and then they were on their way, on a train to the west coast where they would impute wisdom and love into a daughter, a son-in-law and three grandchildren.
I just pray this story of integrity reaches farther than that. I pray the men in the bar that day are still thinking about the mug and my father’s decision to return the ancient, but rather weighty reminder of dishonesty to its rightful owner… I pray a father reading might consider his own integrity. That I would think of my own level of honesty you , yours.
We are all one decision away from an honest choice that can have lasting impact… even if that choice is fifty years old!
Thank you, Dad, and Happy Father’s Day from a proud daughter 3,000 miles away, but holds you in her heart!
“Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring, and integrity, they think of you.” ~H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
Photo credit: Flickr (Creative Commons)