A Man of Principle

When someone asks me to describe my dad, I characterize him best as a man of principle.  While he was generous to a fault and always gave to his favorite charities, he did so privately and without fanfare.

Dad’s four boys learned early on about the value of money and to be frugal in our spending.  He embodied this ideal in any business transaction.

One of the first ways Dad demonstrated the concept of frugality to us was when it came to eating out in a restaurant.  He always checked the math of the waiter or waitress before paying the bill. (This was back in the day when the waitress would write down each of your food and drink items along with the price on the ticket).

It was scary how many times he would catch basic math errors.  I doubt that these were people trying to take advantage—they were simply mistakes made in the haste of trying to serve many customers.  Dad would always politely point out the error to the waiter/waitress if he discovered a mistake.

When the error was in Dad’s favor, he also was quick to show the inaccuracy.  Honesty was one of his best virtues, and this meant paying a business the correct amount, even if the result took dollars out of his wallet.  He would never take advantage of a person or company that had neglected to charge the full amount.

Dad also believed in the idea that “people should get what they paid for.”  That meant speaking up when he felt wronged.  He was not about to back down when he knew that he was in the right.

We did a lot of traveling when my brothers and I were children.  One of Dad’s most common points of contention had to do with the price of hotel rooms.  He always looked for the best deals wherever we went.  He brought along the magazines that were published annually by different motel chains.  In addition to those periodicals with their listed prices, he also would confirm the rate, in advance, over the phone when he was making a reservation.

If the hotel tried to charge more than the listed price in the magazine or the quoted price over the phone, I knew there would be a verbal confrontation. Dad would get quite vocal in his protests, sometimes crossing the boundary of politeness, when he felt screwed.  More often than not, the hotel clerk would realize that he had a customer who was willing to go to bat for himself, and eventually complied with Dad’s wishes.

Occasionally, Dad would meet someone who was equally stubborn, and neither person was willing to negotiate to solve the misunderstanding.  Some of those confrontations could get rather heated, and it was sometimes uncomfortable for me as a child bystander.  Sometimes, even Dad couldn’t wear down the unbending hotel worker.

After Dad would go stomping out of the hotel dissatisfied, I knew what was coming next—a well-written complaint to someone higher up on the food chain.  The result was Dad would often win out in the end with either a refund check or a voucher for a free night’s stay.

Another part of the ideal of receiving what you pay for includes the notion that consumers may return faulty products for a full refund.

I have a vivid memory of learning this lesson years ago at Woolworth’s.  He was picking up the family necessities, and I was browsing with money in my pocket that had been earned doing chores around the house.  I set my eyes on something called “The Unbreakable Comb.”  At seven years old and sporting a crew cut, I had little need for this object.  On the other hand, I knew my dad wouldn’t balk at this purchase since it came from my earnings.

We walked out of the store, and I decided to test the claims made on the package.  I took the ends of the comb and pushed them in the same direction, thus adding a considerable amount of stress to the center of the comb.  It took all of three seconds to determine “The Unbreakable Comb” was indeed breakable.

As we walked down the street, I sheepishly looked up at my dad. I hoped that he hadn’t noticed, but he had already processed my mistake.  Rather than laughing at my foolishness for believing the advertising on the package or ignoring the incident (after all, it was merely a piece of cheap plastic), Dad insisted that I go back into the store and ask for a refund. 

I felt foolish enough already; the last thing I wanted to do was bring further shame to myself by asking for my money back.  That was what Dad insisted.  He was, after all, a man of principle.

I went back into the store with all of the conviction of a wet noodle and told the salesperson my tale of woe.  The clerk shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “What do you want me to do about it?” If it were not for my dad, that is where the story would have ended—I would have happily slunk out of the store to avoid further humiliation.

Dad saw that I needed a life raft, and he came to my defense.  The clerk looked at my dad with nearly the same look of indifference that he had given me.  Dad pointed out the “false advertising” on the package, and the beleaguered merchant caved in and returned my money.

I walked out of the store full of embarrassment, but I had learned the lesson that my dad was trying to teach.  There have been several times since then when I have followed this same principle in adulthood.  Dad was right—one should learn to stand up for one’s self and the rights of others.  I think he’d be proud of me if he saw how I have tried to model his lead.

I’ve learned to be polite and persistent when dealing with other people.  It is much easier to get what you want when you’re not a jerk to a worker or business.  When you know you are right, it is your responsibility to speak out—even if it is only an issue of a few dollars and cents.

My son, now an adult, has also learned these same concepts from me.  Sometimes when I was fuming over a business transaction that had gone awry and was retelling the story to my wife, our son, who was observing my actions would remark, “I feel a letter coming on.”  He was right, and he had learned that his dad, like his grandpa, could be equally stubborn when it came to principles.

A few months back, my son was retelling a story over the phone about his frustration with the airlines and how he felt aggrieved.  I listened carefully and smiled to myself upon hearing that he had resolved the matter by speaking up for himself.  The airline sent him a travel voucher and apologized, thanking him for his letter.  My dad, his grandpa, would be proud—so am I.  

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20 thoughts on “A Man of Principle

  1. Your dad should be on a pedestal to heroes for the common man. Oh, he is ? Great! You and your brothers are fortunate sons.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. petespringerauthor February 6, 2022 — 9:08 am

      He would have made a great lawyer, but he found his passion in nature as a wildlife biologist.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoyed this story, Peter. We need to teach ethics, morality, goodness, and as you write about, principles. If those values crumble, our society does, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. petespringerauthor June 8, 2019 — 10:26 am

      Absolutely, Jennie! I felt my most important role as a teacher was to teach basic human decency through my actions with children. As you know, we give a little and get so much back from them.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Exactly! I always find those moments of teaching the important things come through reading aloud. Currently I’m reading aloud Little House on the Prairie. Last week the neighbor, Mrs Scott, said, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” You can imagine where I went with that. And of course my interactions with children are (hopefully) a role model. Apologies for being long winded. Best to you, Pete.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. What a great post for Father’s Day.


    1. petespringerauthor June 4, 2019 — 5:09 pm

      Very true, Jacqui. All kids should be as lucky as I was.


  4. It’s quite possible we’re related Pete, lol. You’re dad sounds as though he was an outstanding citizen. I am an injustice seeker. I call out companies for false advertising and bad business policies whenever I come across it. I can also say that I’ve been gifted certificates, coupons and credits to my services accounts for their incompetence. A common one with my cable provider when they err in my billing and I have to spend 2 hours of my time listening to robots, pushing numbers and several waits and connections til I finally get through to a human in the correct department, I ask them who is paying for my time for their incompetence and always let them know I’m an injustice writer, lol. Works all the time. 🙂


    1. petespringerauthor June 3, 2019 — 7:16 pm

      Good for you, Debby! Someone’s got to stand up for the common man/woman. It’s frustrating when you can’t talk to a person. There’s nothing quite like that wonderful experience of getting shuffled from bot to bot only to get disconnected or told after thirty minutes, “All circuits are busy right now. Call back at another time.”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, how I’ve been there. And that’s the problem, the sheeples just keep taking what’s dished out. It’s time everywhere for us to stand up for what’s right. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. You dad was right, Pete, and he taught you go principles. Sometimes I feel as if I can’t be bothered to take someone to task over a small thing, but it is a matter of principle and we should make the effort.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. petespringerauthor June 2, 2019 — 7:24 am

      Thanks for the comment, Roberta. I believe that we shouldn’t skimp when it comes to principles.


    2. petespringerauthor June 3, 2019 — 7:22 pm

      Thank you for your comment, Roberta. (By the way, I’m following your blog now.) I think one of the things I find particularly maddening is when the people in government, who are supposed to be making laws to help us, don’t live by any kind of principles or morals.


  6. I would have liked your dad, Pete he had the same mindset as I do…My husband doesn’t he gets this look that says ..Oh, dear..you are going to wish you hadn’t said that or listened and refunded…My children, I am pleased to say take after me and I am proud of how they deal with little inconveniences or bad service and so calmly as you are correct far better to go in calmly with the assumption that the problem will be resolved. Lovely post about your father 🙂


    1. petespringerauthor May 29, 2019 — 7:48 am

      Thank you, Carol. My brothers and I were so fortunate to be raised in a home with love and stability. When I taught and saw so many children who came from lives of dysfunction, it further reinforced how lucky we were.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. petespringerauthor May 28, 2019 — 7:56 pm

    Great idea, Kent. Part of the joy of writing for me is simply the satisfaction I get from putting my thoughts down. Of course, I want my son and grandchildren to know more about the people who came before them. Passing these memories is an essential part of history or stories that should be told are forgotten.


  8. Pete, I enjoyed your essay on your dad. I had a similar thought beginning to form in my mind after finishing my book. A small part of the impetus to write my book was the fact my dad died when I was sixteen, and he only got to see two of his 8 grandchildren, who all know very little about him. My children call my stepdad Grandpa, and he was the only grandpa they knew, and was a loving, caring one. I think I will write about my dad so my children will know some things about him. They got spend a lot of time with my mom and stepdad over the years.
    I think writing about one’s parents is a good idea to pass on family stories and personal characteristics as you have done.
    Good idea, and well done.


  9. petespringerauthor May 28, 2019 — 4:51 pm

    Thanks, Kathy. He’s been gone more than ten years, but his legacy lives on.


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