It’s Father’s Day. My Dad is gone, but not his impact.
I was in the sixth grade at PS 28 in Yonkers. It was a Friday in June, the days were long and warm, and baseball was on my mind more than the waning days of school. Walking home, I found an envelope on the sidewalk, containing what was - to me - a small fortune in bills. I no longer recall how much it actually was, but it was enough to buy the PeeWee Reese shortstop glove in the window of Tim and Tom’s Sport store on Central Avenue. Pee Wee Reese was a hero of mine, and I had been dreaming about that glove all winter.
That evening at dinner I announced my find and asked my father to bring me to Tim and Tom’s over the weekend so I could buy the glove. My Dad pointed out that the envelope contained money that someone else had lost, possibly earmarked for groceries, rent, or a child’s birthday present. He made it clear that it wasn’t mine, and that I had a non-negotiable obligation to return it to its rightful owner.
The next day we drove to the local police station with the envelop and its contents. They said that no one had reported a loss or theft, but that they would hold the money for six weeks, and that if no one claimed it, they would let us know. And they praised me for my father’s honesty.
Six weeks later they called to say the money had not been claimed, so the next Saturday morning my father and I returned to the police station, where I was given the envelop - and more undeserved praise. As we got in the car, I suggested that we stop at Tim and Tom’s Sport Store on the way home so I could get the Pee Wee Reese shortstop glove. And my father said: “Sure. But what will you use to pay for it?”
“Huh? The money in the envelop, of course.”
“You didn’t earn that money,” he reminded me. “It isn’t yours to spend on yourself. Why don’t you pick a charity or project and donate it?”
I begged and I argued, but he did not budge. I had not earned it, so I was not eligible to benefit from it. Disappointed and angry as I was, I understood his point: there is a big difference between earning and getting.
I am not sure, but I think I gave it to an outreach project sponsored by our Methodist Church. Over the next month, my father found a series of chores and house projects for me to do in return for small payments, and by the end of the summer I had saved enough to purchase the Pee Wee Reese shortstop glove, along with some Neatsfoot oil and a new ball. I treasured that glove and it served me well until my hand outgrew it.
Years later (when I was raising my own family) he and I discussed our different recollections of the incident. I was surprised to learn how painful it had been for him to see my unhappiness, and how desperately he had wanted to get me the glove. But there was an important principle involved: if money I found on the street could be mine, how about money on seat of car with the window open? Or the window closed? Or the door locked? Or from someone else’s desk or wallet.
Thank you, Dad. You did good.