May I Help You?

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.

Originally appeared at The Trad

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.

About John Tinseth

John Tinseth ex-deputy sheriff, ex-paratrooper, and ex-park ranger, is the author of the men's style blog, The Trad, whose tag line, "Not as good as it was—better than it will be," sums up his view of life. You think it's bad now? Just wait. Appreciate it while you can. As an Army brat, Tinseth saw enough of the world at an early age to know “assholes are everywhere." For this reason, he doesn't like much, but what he does like is what he loves. Tinseth hangs his clothes, for now, in New York City.


  1. John Anderson says:

    I wish I had memories of my dad. He died when I was two. He used to come home from work and ask my mom if I got to go out and when she said no, he would put me in a stroller and take me out for a walk. He never got angry with my mom. He just did it. My older brother would tell me how my dad showed him how to splice tape. My dad would sing to us and tell us bedtime stories. My mom has a video. I’ve never seen it because it’s on 8mm film of him telling us a story. I know my mom loved him. He put my cousin through nursing school. My mom’s whole family loved and respected him. The good die young.

  2. it reminds me of my father. what I love is the fact that your father never put your words in question. he stood by you.

    • ferdinand ramos says:

      doesn’t remind me of my father. i found a toolbox on the street, lower east side , manhattan. brought it up to the house, my dad said “sure, fine, no biggie.’ little while later the owner of the toolbox showed up, i’m not sure how he tracked me down. “DADDY” got all belligerent and upset with me ’cause he had shown me better. as soon as the owner left “DADDY” had me take off my shirt and lay across the bed while he pulled his belt off. that was when they wore those little thin, skinny belts that hurt like a mf’er. lucky for me my uncle was there and after just a few swipes with the belt he jumped in and reasoned with “DADDY” and saved my ass. years later, a neighbor came up to my house with his kid who had apparently been spat on by my kid, i called my son and asked him his side of the story, he said the other kid spat on him first, the neighbor grabbed his kid behind the neck, apologized, and took his kid home. so like onsanity said, i never put my kids words in question and stood by him. so should i thank my dad for teaching me anything, something ? i think not. i”ll thank onsanity though.

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