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The Moment I Realized My Son Was Going to Be a Good Man

"At that moment I sort of felt like, ‘Wow, this kid is going to be alright.’"

fatherly logo Great Moments in Parenting

Welcome to “Great Moments in Parenting”, a new series where fathers discuss moments they overcame a parenting hurdle in a unique way or simply had an occasion of insight that made them think: “Hey, I’m doing okay at this whole fatherhood thing.” Here, Richard, 45, from New York, explains how, after watching his 17-year-old son help a neighbor in need, he realized that all the lessons he taught him over the years did not fall on deaf ears. 

A few weeks ago, our neighbors came over to our house freaking out because their dog had gotten loose in the neighborhood. It was dark, and the dog had been missing for about an hour, so they were really upset. Of course, my family and I offered to help them look and scour the area until we found something —  it was me, my wife, and my 17-year-old son.

We looked for about 45 minutes until, finally, the dog turned up not too far away from the center of the neighborhood. The family was so thrilled — in tears, really — that we’d found their beloved pet.

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After everyone settled down, and we got the dog back home, my neighbor came back over and knocked on our door. He wanted to offer my son some ‘reward money’ for helping find the dog that night. Without skipping a beat, my son looked the man right in the eye and said, “No, thank you. I can’t accept that. It’s what neighbors do — they help each other out.” I think my neighbor was taken aback, while I was just beaming with pride. We said goodnight, and that was that.

I asked my son what inspired him to turn away the reward money and to say what he said. He replied, “You taught me that a long time ago, dad. Neighbors help each other.”

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My son is about to turn 18 and leave for college, and at that moment I sort of felt like, “Wow, this kid is going to be alright.” Even though I didn’t know it, and sometimes I just plain doubted it, I realized that all of the lessons I’d taught him or showed him since he was a kid had actually sunk in. He was listening.

It made me feel so good as a father, because it showed me I’d told him the right things while he was growing up. How to treat people. How to treat yourself. But, more importantly, it felt like assurance that, through all those years, I’d provided a good example for him to follow. His reaction to my neighbor’s gift was just so … automatic … that I could tell he wasn’t just doing it to impress me. He was doing it because he believed it was the truly right thing to do.

I have another son, younger, who was at basketball practice during the whole thing. When we told him what happened with the dog, he seemed genuinely disappointed that he wasn’t around to help out. Just for kicks, I asked him what he would’ve done if the neighbor had offered him the same reward. He said he wouldn’t have taken it. And, again, it wasn’t like he said that because he knew it was the “correct answer” — he knew it was the right thing to do. Both of my sons made me so proud during that situation. And we got the dog back.