From Chicken Soup for the Father & Daughter Soul

“Yes, Daddy, I Promise”

Retribution is one of the grand principles in the divine administration of human affairs.

John Foster

The security guard grabbed my arm. “Come with me,” he barked, leading me back inside the discount store and into the office. Then he pointed to a lime-green chair. “Sit down!”

I sat. He glared at me. “You can give it to me or I can take it, your choice. What’ll it be?”

As I pulled the package of hair ribbons out of the waistband of my jeans, I could feel the sharp corner of the cardboard cutting into my skin. I handed it to him and pleaded, “You’re not going to call my dad, are you?”

“I’m calling the police. They will call your father.”

My head dropped onto my hands and I sobbed, “No, please! Can’t you just let me go? I can pay you. I have money in my pocket. I’m only fourteen years old. Please, I won’t ever shoplift again!”

“Save your tears, they won’t work on me. I’m sick of you bratty kids stealing, just for the thrill of it.”

I sat, trembling with fear and shame.

The police arrived, and they exchanged muffled words with the guard and the office manager. I overheard one of the policemen say, “I know her father.” I also heard, “Teach her a lesson.”

The policemen walked me to their black-and-white car and opened the back door. I got in, and they drove me through the middle of our small town. I slouched down into the seat so no one could see me as I looked out the window at the evening sky. Then I saw the steeple of my family’s church, and the guilt pierced me like a dagger. I thought, How could I have been so stupid? I’ve broken my father’s heart . . . and God’s.

We arrived at the station, and a round woman with a square face asked me questions until I ran out of answers. She pointed to the door of a large open cell and said, “Sit. Wait.”

I walked in, and my footsteps made an echo that bounced off the bars. The tears started again as I sat down on a hard bench and heard her dial the telephone and say, “I have your daughter in a cell at the police station. No, she’s not hurt. She was caught shoplifting. Can you come and get her? Okay. You’re welcome, good-bye.” She yelled, “Hey kid, your father’s on his way.”

About one hundred years later, I heard his voice say my name. The woman called me up to the desk at three times the necessary volume. I kept my eyes on the floor as I walked toward them. I saw my dad’s shoes, but I didn’t speak to him or look at him. And, thankfully, he didn’t ask me to. He signed some papers and my jailer told us, “You’re free to go.”

The air was dark and cold as we walked to the car in heavy silence. I got in and closed the door. Dad started the engine and drove out of the parking lot as he looked straight ahead. Then he whispered in a sad and faraway voice, “My daughter . . . a thief.”

I melted into repentant tears. The five-mile drive felt like forever. As we drove into our driveway, I saw my mom’s silhouette at the back door.

More shame came in a tidal wave.

After we entered the house, Dad finally spoke to me. “Let’s go into the living room.” Mom and Dad sat together on the couch, and I sat, alone, in the stiff wingback chair.

Dad ran his fingers through his hair, linked our eyes and asked me, “Why?”

I told him about the first time I stole a tube of lipstick and how I felt equal amounts of thrill and guilt. Then the second time, when I took a teen magazine, the guilt faded as the thrill grew. I told them about the third time, and the fourth and the tenth. Part of me wanted to stop the confession, but it gushed out like an open fire hydrant. I said, “Each time I stole, it got easier—until now. I can see how wrong it was.” Hot tears bit my face as I said, “Please forgive me. I’ll never do it again. Stealing was easy; getting caught is hard.”

Dad said, “Yes, and it’s going to get even harder.” He asked Mom to hand me the notepad and pen that were sitting by the telephone. She walked over and patted my hand as she placed them in my lap. Dad continued, “I want you to make a list of all the places you stole from. Write down what you took and how much it cost. This is your one chance for a full confession and our forgiveness. If you ever steal anything again, I will not defend you or bail you out. We will always love you, but this behavior will stop. Here. Tonight. Correct?”

I looked at his face, which had suddenly aged, and said, “Yes, Daddy, I promise.” As I wrote my list of offenses, Mom warned, “Make sure you haven’t forgotten any; this is your only chance.”

I finished writing. “Here’s the list.” I went to the couch and handed it to him, and I asked, “What are you going to do with it?”

Dad looked at the paper and sighed. He patted the cushion, and I sat down between my parents. “Tomorrow morning, we will go to all the places on your list, and you will ask to speak to the manager. You will tell him that you are a shoplifter. You will tell him what items you stole from his store, apologize, and then repay him. I’ll loan you the money, and you will work all summer to pay me back. Do you understand?”

With my heart slamming and my palms sweating, I nodded.

The next morning, I did exactly as he asked. It was impossibly hard, but I did it. That summer, I repaid my father the money, but I will never be able to repay him for the valuable lesson he taught me. Thanks to his courage, I never stole again.

Nancy C. Anderson

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