Raised in a small white-collar community right outside Detroit, I neither experienced nor bore witness to life’s bigger evils, things like chronic hunger, violent crime, homelessness, alcohol and drug abuse. Back then, too, parents didn’t seem to coddle their children the way we do now; they were more willing to have kids learn about life the hard way, rather than soften all of life’s edges for them. I must admit that my own parenting style is more reflective of the latter.
When I was about eight years old, my sister and I were in the car with my parents. They liked to take long drives on the weekend, and on this particular day they were taking us to Grand Rapids; I remember this because I was sure that my father had said we were going to see grand rabbits and I was looking forward to seeing a lot of large white bunnies. I don’t remember how the conversation from the front seat segued onto the subject, but seemingly out of the blue, my dad turned around and told me that if he and my mom ever found out that I was taking drugs, they would turn me into the police and I would go to jail.
It was quite a shock, this abrupt revelation that my own parents would send me up the river!
“You would send me to jail?” I squeaked.
“Yep,” my father confirmed. “If you ever take drugs, we will call the police, they will come over and arrest you and haul you off to jail. The same goes for stealing. If you ever steal anything, you can expect us to turn you in for that, too.”
I believed what he was saying. My father loved to joke, and did so quite often, but now there was no joke in his voice; he was completely serious. My parents hadn’t ever had a talk with me about drugs and shoplifting before, but I knew that I shouldn’t do them. Still, the specter of being turned in by my own mom and dad told me exactly how bad those things actually were and they didn’t need to elaborate.
As far as I can remember, that was the only conversation my family and I ever had about drugs, and evidently, it was the only one I ever needed. I never did drugs, I never stole, and I never went to jail. This was their version of tough love and if that’s what it took to keep me out of trouble, then I’m grateful for it.