Ryan watched tears fill his father's eyes as his mother read the newspaper account.
"... and when asked about his role model, Ryan Bridger spoke clearly and without hesitation, 'My Father, Steven Earl.' The Father of the Year went on to give an example."
His Mom stopped a moment to swallow and wipe her face dry, smiling at her bed-ridden husband as she continued.
"My Dad was strict. He never wavered from a rule. To him it was black and white with no gray in between. Home by nine on a school night, ten on weekends; never tell a lie; school work before play; always remember your manners. No exception … “
Steve remembered that time as if it were yesterday, and as Ginny read further, his mind wandered to that weekend: Ryan and Mark had gone to a Saturday night football game and stopped on the way home for a burger. There, they met two other friends who offered them beer. What Ryan didn't know, however, was that Mark had drank some beer earlier that night and shouldn’t have driven. Later, they got into an accident that left Mark unconscious and Ryan bleeding from a cut on his forehead. It was after midnight by the time Ryan flagged down a car and they were taken to the hospital back in town. From there, Ryan had called home.
"... I expected to receive a thrashing over the phone before I had a chance to explain, but Dad surprised me and listened to the entire story. Both of our parents finally arrived to take us home. Mark had broken a couple of ribs and dislocated his left shoulder, but besides cuts and bruises, was okay, while I had eleven stitches and was warned to watch for drowsiness. The police came and went without issuing a ticket, accepting the story that we swerved to miss a deer and lost control on the rain-saturated road.
The next afternoon, Dad and I had a talk. 'You know, son, several rules were broken last night. First, you were drinking and driving; second you were out after hours; and last - you lied about the cause of the accident – I smelled alcohol on your breath. …"
His mother paused in her reading and looked up at Ryan who stood by the foot of the bed.
Steve also watched his son's face as he recalled that conversation the following day.
"There are no exceptions to any of the rules, Ryan. You do understand that don't you?"
"Then all that's left to do is to decide on the appropriate punishment. I've been thinking about each of the infractions individually and I've concluded that you should decide your own fate."
Ryan's eyes went wide with surprise. "You mean I can choose my own punishment?"
"Yes. That's right, and I'll give you until dinner to tell me your decision."
Ginny interrupted Steve’s thoughts … "I sat in my room for a couple of hours, relieved at first that I got to chose instead of Dad, then frustrated by my feelings of guilt. My sister, Cynthia and I had been raised by Christian standards and after God, honoring our parents was second in importance. So when dinner time came, I told my parents that I planned to go to Mark and then the two of us would tell the police the truth about the accident and our drinking.
'Is that all?' was Dad's response, and I hesitated looking at him with puzzlement. No. That's not all. I'm sorry Dad for causing you and Mom to worry and for disobeying. Please forgive me.
Dad answered: 'You're forgiven, son, and we're both proud of you for taking responsibility about the lying. Most important, though, is for you to make it right between you and God. His forgiveness is what you really need.'
And that's what I've done ever since. Ask God for direction and forgiveness when I go astray. And that's what I've taught my children to do. It seems to me that to be a good father, you need to learn what a good father is - from a good father; and God is the best father I know - followed by my Dad."
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