Last week while sitting in a doctor's exam room — my son was pseudo-sick again — I picked up an old and tattered Parent magazine. The pages were dog-eared and worn, the cover was missing. It looked like some kid had been eating on it. As I flipped through the pages, careful, so it wouldn't fall apart, I saw a photo in an advertisement. Perfect reference for one of my paintings! The colors, the lighting, the hardwood floors, were exactly what I needed. I ripped the advertisement from the magazine and slipped it into my back pocket. Didn't think twice about it.
"Daddy," my son moaned, as though singing a sad song. "What are you doing with that picture?"
"Shhhh — be quiet," I said, and snarled at him like a pit bull. He's just like his mom. He doesn't miss a beat.
"Are you stealing that picture?" he asked. His facial expression convicted me of a terrible crime, like armed robbery. He was half joking, trying to get under my skin. But he was serious too.
"Did you wash your ears today?" I asked, trying to change the subject. "They look kinda dirty?" I tilted his ear toward me as though studying it for cleanliness. He pulled away.
"Daddy, why are you stealing?" he repeated his accusation, louder. I was afraid the doctor would hear, storm into the room, think I was stealing one of his examination tools.
"Cut it out, man!" I yelled as loud as I could possibly whisper. I started to think: Is it really stealing if I rip a page from a tattered old magazine? Even one long past due for an appointment with the garbage can? Must be, or why would I feel so guilty? Why was I whispering? Why was I so angry at my son that my blood was boiling?
I was stealing. I took the advertisement from my back pocket and put it back inside the magazine. "I was just joking," I said to my son, smiling, not only teaching him to steal, but to lie.
After the nurse finished examining my son, I told her about the advertisement, explained how I'd like to use it, and asked if I could tear it from the magazine. "Take it," she said. "In fact, you can have the whole thing if you'd like. It's ready for the trash anyway."
I picked up the magazine and slipped it under my car keys, hoping my son wouldn't offer more information. He didn't.
"I appreciate your honesty," the nurse said. "Personally, I'd've ripped it out and stuffed it into my purse."