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How come you’re home from school so early today?” My dad was looking at me intently.

“Because I was the only one who knew the answer to a question in biology class,” I replied.

“Oh, really? What was the question?”

“Who put the snake in Shirley’s desk?”

“You just can’t stay out of trouble, can you, son?”

It didn’t seem like it. And the harder I tried to stay out of it, the more I got into it.

IMPRACTICAL JOKE

“You dudes wanna smoke a joint after school? Whassa matter? You boys chicken?” Marty cackled as he staggered out of the restroom.

“I am so tired of that guy bragging about all the pills he pops and the dope he smokes,” I said to my best friend, Justin, on our way to history class.

“Me too,” he agreed.

“How can we shove it back in his face?”

“I dunno,” Justin responded as we plopped into our seats.

Halfway through Mr. Howsen’s lecture, Justin slipped me a note: “I got it! Talk to you after class.”

The bell rang, signaling time for Justin to share the shove-it-back-in-Marty’s-face plan.

“This will get him good!” Justin gleamed.

“What?” I insisted.

“Well, the way I figure it, we’ll just play his game with him. Except when we play, it’ll backfire—on him!”

“Brilliant!” I affirmed. “Absolutely brilliant. Except I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“We’ll slip him some drugs, but we’ll lace them with—”

“With what?” I interrupted.

“With Ex-Lax!”

“Ex-Lax?”

“Yeah. That’ll sit him down and shut him up.”

The plan was executed as smoothly as a 49ers’ pass play. Operation Ex-Lax was organized and carried out by Wednesday.

It started when we dared Marty to pop some “diet pills.”

“Give me those bad boys,” Marty scoffed. “You wimps are afraid of everything, aren’t you?”

“I heard these drugs give you a real buzz. Better be careful,” I quipped, trying to swallow my laughter.

“Diet pills ain’t nothin’.”

That was probably the last time Marty ever said that. On Thursday morning he wasn’t in school. By Thursday evening Operation Ex-Lax was about as secret as the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Everybody had heard about the operation—including my dad.

“What’s this I hear about you forcing Marty to take drugs?” Dad quizzed.

“How’d you know?” I queried.

“Marty’s mother called me. Why did you do that?”

“I, uh—well, Justin thought it would be, um, funny if like he put some Ex-Lax . . .”

“You’re grounded for two weeks.”

“Two weeks!” I echoed in disbelief. “But Dad, we just got sick of Marty bragging about—”

“Argue with me, and I can make it three weeks.”

“But Dad,” I whined in self-defense, “we were just trying to show him that taking drugs is stu—”

“What you did was wrong.”

“OK, I know; I’ll apologize or something, but two weeks is too much. Besides, the hiking trip on the Appalachian Trail is next weekend! I’ve been planning to go on it for months. You can’t keep me from—”

“Do you want three weeks?”

“Listen, Dad. You don’t underst—”

“Fine, it’s three weeks. One more word, and I’ll make it four.”

“Man! That’s not fair,” I mumbled as I stomped to my room—for three weeks.

I still think Dad was unfair in the Ex-Lax episode. And yet for every punishment that seemed too stern, there were dozens that now seem well-deserved.

GOTCHA

My dad has always been the master misplacer. Keys, wallet, eyeglasses—these are the most popular items on his “most wanted” list.

“Have you seen my keys, kids?” Dad inquired one day.

“Sure haven’t,” we replied, not really wanting to interrupt our game of Monopoly to help him search.

“I’ve got to find my keys. Help me look for them.” Dad chased around the house like a vacuum cleaner on full speed. “I’ve got to find them!”

Then, as was typical when Dad got really distressed, he resorted to his surefire plan to motivate us to join him in the search. “Hey, kids,” he hollered, “I’ll give $5 to anyone who finds my keys!”

“Now he’s talking my language!” I quipped to my brother Paul as I dropped Park Place to go hunting. Suddenly our home was a swarm of vacuum cleaners on full speed.

The reward money was always a sweet supplement to an allowance. The extra cash just wasn’t as regular as we would have liked.

Then one day a flash of brilliance overwhelmed me. What would happen, I wondered to myself, if I hid Dad’s billfold and let him search? When his search reached the frantic stage, I could just happen to discover . . . Yes! You’re a financial genius, Karl! A regular Donald Trump!

And so Operation Billfold Bury was put into action. I snatched Dad’s wallet and slipped it into the toy box in the front closet. He’ll never look for it there! I assured myself.

My hunch was correct. Dad searched for his wallet like a pirate for treasure—but to no avail. And so he resorted to his typical ploy to motivate a search team.

“I’ll give $5 to anybody who finds my wallet,” Dad announced.

Hot dog! I hit the lottery! I chuckled to myself. My brothers and sister scurried about in the frantic search, while I calmly marched to the toy box and unburied the wallet.

“Oh, here it is!” I exclaimed, hoping I looked surprised.

“Where was it?” Dad asked.

“Right here, in the toy box.”

“In the toy box? How on earth did it get in there?”

“I dunno.”

Several days went by. I invested the money in a jumbo pack of red licorice, five packs of baseball cards, and a Flintstones eraser. The rest I put in my Boston Red Sox baseball cap bank, which was almost overflowing.

Then Dad called me into his office—and I knew it wasn’t to raise my allowance.

“Karl, how did you know my wallet was in the toy box?”

“Um, uh—just smart, I guess,” I stammered.

“Just smart?”

“Uh, yeah!”

“Or did you hide it there?”

Silence swallowed the room. I stared at my Reeboks. “Why would you think that, Dad?”

“It was pretty obvious the way you went straight to the toy box as soon as I offered $5. I was hoping you’d confess before I had to bring it up.”

“But Dad, I was just . . .”

“I made two long-distance phone calls asking about the wallet. You will pay for those calls. I also drove across town to Texaco just to look for it. You will pay me 16 cents a mile for that trip.”

“But Dad . . .” I weakly protested.

“Go get your bank.”

I opened the cherished baseball cap. Coins clinked onto my dresser. I can’t believe he’d make me pay for the calls, I steamed. And mileage for his trip! That’s ridiculous! At least I have an extra five bucks in the bank to help cover everything.

I paid the debt and spent most of the afternoon thinking about the experience. By the time I lay down in bed, my attitude had softened. I suppose I was dishonest, I reasoned as I stared at the ceiling. And Dad probably couldn’t have been fairer. I drifted to sleep feeling a little better about things.

And so it goes. Unfair discipline. Fair discipline. Both are a part of life. Both can teach us something if we let them.

PS: Marty never took drugs again—at least he never told us if he did!

PPS: I also had to pay back the reward money—with interest.

This article originally appeared in the February 16, 1991, issue of Insight. At that time Karl Haffner was pastor of the North Creek Christian Fellowship of Seventh-day Adventists in Washington. He’s now senior pastor of the Kettering Seventh-day Adventist Church in Kettering, Ohio, and mission strategist for Kettering Health Network. He has B.A. degrees in theology and business from Walla Walla University, an M.B.A. from Pacific Lutheran University, and an M.Div. and Ph.D. from Andrews University. He is the author of several books, including The Cure for Soul Fatigue, Caught Between Two Worlds, No Greater Love, and Pilgrim’s Problems.

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