John Tinseth recalls his first run-in with the law, and how his father’s reaction taught him something about what it means to be a good man.
I was 14, when a friend I was with got caught stealing a double Chicago album in the Willow Oaks Shopping Center just before Christmas. He was older and his father was a famous Air Force Ace as well as Thunderbird pilot. My friend was detained by the store and police were called.
That afternoon the Ace visited my home with his son. I was called downstairs by my father and we all sat in our living room with Danish furniture and a white Flokati rug. My fathers paintings were everywhere. Some were, I like to think, tasteful nudes. I don’t think the Ace painted.
He told my father his son was arrested for shoplifting and that I was I with him. My father, who didn’t have much use for me at this age, sat on the edge of the sofa and looked my way. “Is that true?” he asked. “Yes.” I said, and said nothing more. There was silence and I looked at my friend who was staring at the Flokati rug.
The Ace suggested I was the lookout and that it was probably my idea to steal the Chicago album. My father turned to me and I told him I didn’t even like Chicago, that my friend had been stealing anything that wasn’t nailed down for as long as I knew him, and that he told me about stuff he stole before he ever met me.
My father, a major, turned to the Ace, a colonel, and said, “There you go.” The Ace looked at his son and asked if it was true. The son nodded. The Ace suddenly looked small and dark in our bright living room. He left with his son taking the dark with him. Nothing else was said by my father.
40 years later I still obsess over shoplifting paranoia. If I don’t buy something a feeling of dread comes over me. I’ll be stopped. Questioned. Accused. By a famous Ace. And then I remember my father… and how bright it was in that living room.