I Am Responsible

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.


4 thoughts on “I Am Responsible

  1. Tough love is sometimes the truest love there is. You were lucky to have so many great mentors to teach you these lessons — and, by extension, so are the youngsters you’ve raised or supervised or mentored. Thank you for this wonderful post, Tom.


  2. I so appreciate what you have written here, Tom.
    I can see so much evidence around me of what is NOT that teaching of accountability and responsibility (Donald Trump could be one good example).
    I have tried to live my life the same as what you have described and am also thankful to those who pushed me, mostly be example.
    As I have been responsible during my life-time, I also believe I need to continue that responsibility into my end-of-life planning (I don’t want to leave it all to my son to try to figure out; there will be enough opportunity once I have died for him to continue his living responsibly!).
    So, more “toughlove” as I face fully the responsibility for the wrap-up — to the extent I can imagine what will need to be decided ahead of the unknown moment and details — and my son is willing to take the responsibility of going through the planning with me! It actually has become a beautiful cycle for both of us, together; I recommend it!


    • Thanks Eleanor. We share so many philosophies of life.
      I do prepare routinely for end of life issues. My dad was a good role model: everything was done, material items were marked and there were minimal items. Plans were all laid out. It made things easy for the family. A close friend passed away and left a mess behind. Not good for the family.


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