Like many teenage boys, I got my first speeding ticket about six months after earning my license at age 16. I had attended one of my high school's football games and was returning home, but not before first depositing Walter Seagal at his own home. You see, Walter was stinkin' drunk that night and obviously in no shape to drive. Now, had you attended my high school, Herbert Hoover High School in Fresno, California, you would have some sympathy for Walter. Our football team was so bad for so long, it could drive even a teetotaller to pound a few barley pops.
In taking Walter home I was serving the Fresno community. Doing my part to keep the city's streets free from drunk drivers. I was speeding, however, and therefore deserved the citation.
I was doing fifty in a forty zone; not a huge infraction, but definitely speeding. Additionally, when I got pulled over, Walter felt an urgent need to exit the vehicle and defend me to the cop. Despite his noble intent, there's nothing like spewing bear breath into a policeman's face to pretty well insure a citation. But the cop knew I hadn't been drinking at all, so he wrote me the ticket, added the requisite and stern, "slow down" command, and sent me on my way.
I delivered Walter to his home then returned to my own home. When I walked in the door, I immediately told my parents that I had suffered my first summons. You can imagine how angry my dad was, just like everyone else's dad when faced with his son's first ticket. But no, my dad wasn't angry at all. Instead of reading the riot act, he gave me a wry smile and a hug. He said, "Yeah, I remember when I got my first ticket too." That's it. That's the punishment.
Dad knew how to navigate the delicate tight-wire between judgment and mercy. The cop did nothing wrong in writing me a ticket, but he lost a chance to reinforce responsible behavior in a young man. Dad, on the other hand, didn't need to punish me, the ticket itself accomplished punishment. Instead, he saw an opportunity to apply mercy. It worked. Big respect for dad!