Doing What's Right
I was born and raised in a small, quiet Detroit neighborhood during the late 1940s and early 1950s. Though my parents did not regularly attend worship services, they often communicated their values and beliefs to me and taught me frequent moral lessons.
It was 1953, the peak of the post-World War II baby-boom era. Every family on our block seemed to have at least two young children. Before the advent of the now-ubiquitous prekindergarten programs, preschoolers ruled the neighborhood while the older kids were away at school during the day. Because there was little fear of crime or kidnapping and because we lived on a short dead-end street, even the four- and five-year-olds had a lot of freedom to wander. I played with my friends all morning and afternoon with a noontime break for lunch either at my house or at a friend’s.
Dads were home from the war, most moms worked at home raising their children, the post-war economy was booming, and there was a sense of security and hope from which even young children could benefit—if only through the happiness and prosperity of their parents. We almost never went anywhere in the car, nor did we eat at fast-food restaurants very often. We were allowed to watch our small black-and-white television set—with its rabbit-ear antenna that picked up only a weak and fuzzy signal—for limited amounts of time. There was no Internet, no computers, no calculators, no cell phones, no iPods, no PlayStations, and no Twitter or Facebook. We made our own fun, and somehow we survived without electronic assistance.
There were many more street vendors and retail delivery trucks than we see in residential neighborhoods today. Nearly every day the milkman made his dairy product deliveries, a paperboy tossed newspapers on the porches, and the ice-cream truck wound through the streets in the late afternoon or early evening. Others, such as produce vendors or locksmiths, came through periodically. Traveling salesmen walked door-to-door selling everything from encyclopedias and vacuum cleaners to brushes and other household items.
As young kids in the neighborhood, we got to know these salespeople, many of whom became quite friendly with us and sometimes offered us small, inexpensive gifts. Those entrepreneurs who worked our neighborhood often seemed like extended family to us and to our families.
I connected especially well with our milkman, who drove a small truck into the neighborhood every day. He usually came very early, but sometimes I saw him as I went out to play after breakfast. “Hey, Freddy,” he called to me one day. “How would you like a ride in my truck?”
This was an offer I couldn’t refuse, so I quickly jumped into the front seat, with open doorways on both sides to expedite deliveries. The last thing I remember from that ride was the truck rounding a corner—and me losing my grip and falling out. Though I couldn’t remember any of it, I was thrown from the truck and knocked completely unconscious when my head struck the curb.
Was I dead? Had I suffered serious brain damage? The milkman, the neighbors, and my mother feared the worst.
While I was unconscious, my parents—who up to that time had never taken me to church and had only rarely expressed belief in God—prayed intently for my full recovery.
When I finally woke up, I was in a hospital room with my parents at my bedside. “Oh, Fred!” cried my mother, grasping my father’s hands. “Oh, Freddy! Thank God! Thank you, God!”
And from that time forward, I heard more about the goodness of God and divine answers to prayer—a topic that was somewhat foreign to me as a five-year-old, but it planted a seed.
Despite my regaining consciousness, the doctors remained guarded in their optimism for my full recovery, and I stayed in the hospital for a couple of days under observation; subsequent tests were performed regularly, and prayers continued indefinitely. How scared I was in the large dormitory-like hospital room with seven or eight adult patients. But after those few fearful and uncertain days, I returned home with a clean bill of health.
And home became slightly different. We began attending church only occasionally, but talk of God was much more evident than it had been before the accident. And after I completely recovered, my parents told me that we were going to visit somebody—an attorney who would ask me about what had happened to me.
“Hi, Freddy,” he said. “I hear you got a big bump on the head. Can you tell me about that?” He seemed like a nice man; he treated me gently, but for every answer, there was a more probing question: “What can you tell me about that ride?” “Did the milkman give you and your friends rides often?” “Were you scared?” It was like he was trying to get me to say bad things about my friend.
After I nervously answered his questions, my parents were encouraged to sue the dairy company for negligence because the driver had allowed a five-year-old to ride on one of the milk trucks. How much money a judgment or settlement might yield—I didn’t know, and as a child, I wouldn’t have understood such figures anyway.
“No, we are not going to do this,” said my father, resolutely. “But thank you very much for your guidance.”
At that time, my family was really struggling to make ends meet, and I now realize how difficult it must have been for my parents to resist that enticing temptation.
Later on, they carefully explained it to me: “The milkman made a terrible mistake, Freddy. He never should have offered a ride to someone as young as you.” They emphasized that I could have been killed or could have incurred permanent brain damage. “Because of that,” they told me, “we could have been paid a lot of money for the company’s mistake and for the continuing risk to your health.”
I was too young to understand the intricacies of lawsuits, but I asked a lot of questions. “I don’t get it,” I said. “Why don’t you want the money?”
“Try to understand, Freddy,” said my mother. “We are so grateful that God returned you to us and healed you. He answered our prayers and will protect you from harm in the future. So even though the lawyer said to take the money, we feel that it’s better to forgive the milkman and the company and not to seek any further gain from the accident.”
I finally understood: their decision was a conscious display of gratitude to God for my healing. They felt strongly that this was the right decision—the right thing to do—and that God would bless our family in the future, providing for their financial needs, for making that decision.
It occurs to me now how infrequently children get to witness meaningful and practical applications of faith, particularly on the part of their parents. I suspect many (if not most) children who are far better churched and Sunday school-educated than I never get such a clear and unambiguous example of faith in action as I did at the age of five.
The right thing to do is an expression I would subsequently visit hundreds of times in my personal and business life. Just as my parents believed He would, God did bless our family, and I thank God often for the wonderful and lasting life lesson my parents taught me.
God doesn’t always intervene to prevent accidental deaths, even among faithful believers. I don’t understand why, but I have confidence and faith that all things work for good in the lives of those who believe in and follow the Lord our God. In my own life I was extremely blessed following the childhood accident that could have easily killed me: God protected me and granted me a full recovery. Perhaps just as valuable as that blessing was the valuable life lesson I learned through the faith and the actions of my parents.
Children are incredibly impressionable in their formative years. We often forget that they are always watching our actions and behaviors and listening to our words. Whether they like what they hear and see or not, we are their role models. It’s undeniable that both our positive and negative behaviors as parents are frequently mirrored years later in the behaviors of our adult children. The high frequency of abused children later becoming abusers of their own children is but one clear example.
Moral behaviors, the values of parents, and the training of children are all extraordinarily important in your children’s pre-adolescent years. Even if they reject or rebel against parental morals and values in their adolescent or teenage years (a very common occurrence), most ultimately revert to the role models and examples set for them in their formative years. Do you see your parents’ behaviors reflected in your own actions? Can you separate the good from the bad and work to consciously avoid negative behaviors modeled by your parents?
Are you a positive role model for your children? Are you bringing them up in the way of the Lord? The Proverbs are so rich in wisdom. There is no greater truth than the counsel of Proverbs 22:6 to start children off on the way they should go, because—as the scripture promises—ultimately they will not turn from it.