I hopped on my bike and headed for the Star Tribune circulation office across town. I was 11 years old and delivered the Morning Tribune six days a week and had a separate route for the Sunday Tribune. I was a good paperboy: I got myself up every day and finished my route on time. I didn’t miss customers. I did my door-to-door collections and paid my bills promptly. But I had spent too much money that week, and I didn’t have enough to pay my bill in full. I wasn’t too concerned: my dad was the boss and the new guy wouldn’t say anything to me, I thought.
A line of carriers formed behind the wide counter in the small office. Behind the counter were desks for my dad and the new manager he had hired recently. Benches lined the walls in the outer area. We had sales meetings at the office and the benches would be filled with carriers—all young boys.
I got to the front of the line and emptied my money bag of bills and coins onto the counter. Don Iverson was the new manager. He was a big guy. My dad had told me that he had been a Navy frogman. He counted out my money and said, “You are short.” “I don’t have the money,” I replied.
His voice boomed and his fist slammed into the counter, “We pay our bills in full! Don’t you ever be short again!”
In the 59 years since that Saturday morning, I’ve never paid a bill late.
As I reflect back over my formative years from the vantage point of 70 years, I am grateful for those adults, like Don Iverson, who used tough love (high standards plus compassion) to guide me in the right direction.
I think of the teachers who held me accountable for my immaturity by sending me to the principal’s office, to sit in the hallway and who used a paddle and a swat on the rear end to get student’s attention.
I think of the basketball coach who kicked me off the team for breaking training rules. The juvenile court judge who threatened me with a juvenile detention facility and a few police officers who made me tell my parents of misbehavior.
I am most grateful to my parents.
As I look back over my childhood, I can see a pattern in how my parents raised me: They never rescued me from my mistakes. They didn’t swear or holler at me. I was never spanked by mom or dad. But they made me face my mistakes. And they stood with me when I faced punishment.
All of those adults in my life taught me that I was responsible and accountable for the choices in my life. I learned that the quality of my decisions would determine the kind of life I created for myself.
Like most of us, I had unexpected setbacks in my adult life. Each time life threw a difficulty my way, I overcame it and made my life and myself better than before. I was able to do that, in large part, because the adults in my life as a youngster taught me that no one would rescue me: I was responsible for my life.