My parents have been a fountain of good advice my entire life. From teaching me how to overcome loss at my first little league game, to kicking my ass into gear when I was treating college like a five-year all-you-can-drink resort, they’ve always been there for me with wise words and lessons. Naturally, I ignored 90% of what they were teaching me and got in trouble because of it, but looking back now I guess I can admit some of it stuck.
The advice: Son, we’ve known you your whole life, so we don’t have much hope that you’re going to all of a sudden start following the rules and never get in trouble. Instead, we’re just going to ask that you, for the love of god, not get a criminal record. I know you’re 14 and the concept of your future career means nothing to you, but trust us, there’s going to be a “felony” box on all your job applications that you’re not going to want to have to check. Felonies can include trespassing, assault, theft, and arson. I’m leaving out murder and embezzlement because I know you’re not dumb enough for one of them and not smart enough for the other.
I know you think those are serious crimes you wouldn’t commit, but you probably already have. If you jump a fence into private property, even for something dumb, that’s trespassing. Getting in a fight is assault, and if you win by enough, it can have other crimes tacked onto it. Trust me on that one. Shoplifting is theft. I know, I know. You would never shoplift. I repeat: shoplifting is theft. Arson is what you’re going to hear a judge tell you if you keep lighting random things on fire in the dry woods of California. And if…let me rephrase that, when you do get caught for doing something stupid, for the love of god respect the police. Your only chance of not getting arrested on a serious charge is just being respectful. I know you’ll want to look cool in front of your equally stupid friends who will no doubt be there with you, but if you get thrown in jail because you called a cop a pig, I’m not bailing you out. Just use your head, or I’ll make your grandma come down here and slap some sense in to you.
How I should have listened: Literally three hours after receiving this talk, my parents were called by the police because I had been caught trying to steal booze from a four-star hotel at like 10 p.m. My idiot friends and I had snuck into the kitchen and were caught by the hotel manager red (wine) handed. My dad delivered on his promise; my grandma’s hands are extremely bony, in case you were wondering. I also should have taken their advice about being respectful to the police when I was in college, but I give respect where it’s deserved. When an officer ignored my then-girlfriend telling him I was walking her home and decided (for reasons I still can’t fathom) that I had been “putting my hands on her,” and tried to tackle me, I instead opted to book it over a row of houses.
I may have lost a fight with a fence and broke my nose, but I’m pretty sure that hurt less than the cop’s pride as I left him wheezing in my dust.
I suppose I also should have respected the police’s authority when I got caught jaywalking in Lake Tahoe, a few years later. Had I apologized immediately, I probably would have merely received a stern talking to, instead of being chicken-winged and handcuffed on the curb for a half hour because I tried to pretend I was deaf and walk quickly into the casino. Nevada’s finest were less amused than my friends were, and thankfully decided not to search me or I would for sure have gone to jail.
Ways I’ve started listening: While I haven’t made the best (or most legal) choices in my life, I will say the piece of advice that stuck the most was the part about acting respectful. I’ve been handcuffed twice, searched several times, questioned/yelled at more times than I can count, and have zero arrests on my record. Whether or not I think the cop is an arrogant douchebag who chose their career because they were mad they had to stop being a bully after high school, I remain respectful and docile when I’m in trouble. The key is to project a mix of honest bewilderment (I had no idea that wasn’t allowed), genuine regret (I’m sorry, I know there’s no excuse for my behavior), and reverent respect (I understand you’re doing your job, and thank you for keeping us safe). I’ve also mellowed out a lot in my postgrad years, with the exception of perhaps a public urination ticket or whatever. I now understand the real-life consequences to having a police record, and I’ve passed the age where the cops will give me a pass due to my youth. Getting a DIP (drunk in public) in college is upsetting, but funny. Getting one at 25 means I have a problem.
Thank you, mom and dad, for your words of wisdom. As always, in return I will give you the gift you’ve always dreamed of: Me admitting that you were right all along, in a column that you will hopefully never read..
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