Proud Fathers is a story by Greg Madden
John Mason’s wife dropped her husband off at John Mason Auto Body Repair at 7:30 am on her way to her admin job three miles away. Four hours later, John studied his watch and knew his son, Randy, would arrive in the next 30 minutes at noon. The boy wasn’t always the best worker, but he was dependable. Randy was a senior at Lebanon High School and got out of classes at 10:16. He worked Monday through Friday afternoons at his father’s auto repair shop. He washed cars, picked up parts and supplies, swept the floor, and cleaned the restroom. It wasn’t a glamourous job, and John knew Randy took a load of crap (cut your hair, are you a virgin, are you sure your John’s son, etc.) from his half-dozen employees. He gave him credit; Randy never complained to him or expected special treatment. John paid him the minimum wage for 20 hours a week. Occasionally, Randy was stuck waiting on him or a customer coming in late to pick up a vehicle, but overtime pay was never mentioned. John knew his son saved half of his earnings for college tuition, even though Randy had never expressed any desire to attend any institution after high school.
Friday afternoon, April 27, 1973, started much the same as the two years Randy had worked there. He forced himself out of his father’s pickup truck he had driven to school and stared at the ugly yellow block building. Dust from sanding and grinding escaped to the outside through two open garage doors. His father’s 8-feet by 12-feet office sat in the right-hand corner of the building. When Randy walked in, he noticed his father’s hair had turned completely gray and considerably thinned in the last year. He had always thought of his father as being almost a God, larger than life, but now he was shrinking, withering away.
Looking up from his desk, John said, “Hello, I need you to go to Smith Radiator. They have a radiator for the ’67 Chevy Impala that’s been here for weeks.”
“Don’t take forever.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Paul mentioned his daughter is helping on spring break. It seems to me you tend to have long talks with her.”
“I’m just being polite.”
“All right. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“On the way back, get me a pack of Marlboros.” He handed his son a dollar bill. “You can keep the change.”
Smith Radiator was six blocks away, and five minutes later, Randy parked in their small three-space parking lot. Sure enough, Lauren sat at the receptionist’s desk. Though only a year older than Randy, the petite blonde lived in a different world. She majored in accounting at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and lived in a co-ed dorm. Her tales of drinking and hanging with boys after hours were the only things that sounded good about going to college. Of course, he had a mad crush on her. She was beautiful, intelligent, and flirtatious.
“Randy, it’s good to see you.” Her smile was infectious and caused him to grin back at her.
“You too. It’s been a while.”
She looked around to ensure her father wasn’t near, lowered her voice, and said, “Have you spent all the money we made last summer? I only have a fifty left.”
Suddenly Randy felt hot. He had hoped their dealings last summer were a one-time thing and would never be mentioned again, let alone repeated. He felt guilty for the previous year and had sworn he would never cheat on his father again.
“I have and never want to talk about it again. Besides, it wasn’t that much.”
“When did you get such lofty morals? You said yourself that you’re losing hundreds of dollars in unpaid overtime. And now that I’ve taken a few accounting classes, I realize we can make a lot more.”
“Last summer, I wrote alternate invoices that were only about 10% over the original bill. Your dad gave you signing authority and never noticed the extra cost. This year I’ll do the same except for my Dad’s business. I’ll create a third invoice for 10% less than the original bill. He’ll never notice.”
“I can’t do it again.”
“So you grew a conscious in the last year?”
“Call it what you want.”
“Here’s the way I see it. I kept all the paperwork from last summer, so I can make it look like you always wrote the check for 10% over the original, and you forced me to give you the difference.”
“And how would I have forced you?”
“Give me a break. I’m five-two and weigh less than one hundred and ten pounds. You threatened me. I’m an honor student at college. Our fathers will believe me. And the only thing that matters to you is your father’s approval.”
Randy was at a loss. She knew him better than he knew himself.
She opened up her purse and took out a fifty-dollar bill. “You can take this and keep your mouth shut, or you could tell your dad you stole $500 from him last year. Is it worth blowing up your entire life?”
He was beaten. Randy took the money from her hand and stuffed it in his pants. He left the office and walked into the radiator shop. Paul Smith waved at him and pointed at the repaired radiator.
Randy grabbed it, and Paul motioned for him to come over.
“How are you doing, Randy?”
“Tell your Dad I appreciate his business. A lot of small shops are struggling, but thanks to people like your Dad, I’ve been doing okay. Though I’m sure glad Lauren is on a scholarship. I’m blessed to have such a perfect daughter.” He laughed. “I’m sure your Dad is proud of you too.”
Randy smiled and said, “I hope so.”
He then loaded up the radiator, but before returning to the body shop, he stopped at a convenience store and bought a pack of Marlboros for his father. Once there, he carried the radiator into his dad’s office and handed him the invoice for $113.57 and the cigarettes. John looked at the invoice and said, “I swear he raises the prices when his daughter is in town.”
“I can’t believe he would do that. He told me he really appreciated your business.”
Randy left the office and grabbed a push broom to clean up Bondo shavings from a 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass repair. His guilt passed in a few seconds; only the fear of being caught remained.