Nobody wants to hear bad news. For me there is nothing worse than getting bad news from a source other than from the person closest to the situation.
One example of this was how I was told about my truck getting totaled. I had upgraded my truck but the old one was in such good shape I wanted to keep it in the family. To this end, I traded my son’s car with my truck with him getting a much better deal. It was ok for me because it put them in a much safer car than the Suzuki they had been driving. It was small and had very few safety features built into it.
I traded in their car when I bought my new truck, so everybody came out winners.
Skipping forward about six months I received a text message one morning from my son that contained a simple message. “Everybody is ok,” it read. What a strange text message to get but knowing this son it would be his way of taking the sting out of the news in the text that followed it up. All the second message contained was a picture of my old truck which had just been in a traffic accident that totaled it.
The third text message explained that my daughter-in-law, who was about six months pregnant at the time, was driving to work when a one-ton box van turned left right in front of her leaving no room to avoid a crash. There was no doubt that the truck was totaled but I surprised my son by not even asking about the condition of the truck, instead focusing solely on my daughter-in-law. Had she been in the Suzuki she would have been seriously injured if not killed.
Not long after this experience I recalled something similar that had happened to me as a twelve-year-old.
I had been helping my dad clean out irrigation ditches one Saturday morning and his 1949 Dodge five window truck was full of debris. This was a truck that our father had purchased new in 1949 and it was in pretty good condition. It was old enough that the starter was a button on the floor rather than in the dash. Wanting to demonstrate my excellent driving skills, I took it upon myself to pull the truck into the back yard. To do so would require me to navigate through a gate made up of six sided poles that were cemented into the driveway.
I was feeling very accomplished right up to the point that a 4x4 post that was sticking out of the side of the pickup bed came into contact with the fence, shearing the post off at ground level. The truck came away without a scratch. My father was at work when it happened so I played what I thought would be his reaction through my mind. After some serious consideration, I got on my bike and rode the six blocks to downtown Logan where our father’s television sales and repair store was located.
Terrified at what I though would be his reaction I waited until there were no customers in the store before I blurted out, “I broke the fence.” Even though fifty years have passed since that fateful day I still remember his reaction. “It can be fixed,” he said, and that was the end of that. I rode my bike home knowing I had been granted a generous pardon. I knew that when he got home he wouldn’t go off like a firecracker when one of my siblings ratted me out, which happened even before he got out of his Volkswagen van. Giving him the bad news early had been the best strategy.
Another area of potential disaster revolved around traffic tickets. It was at a time when all our family’s insurance coverage was under the same State Farm policy. Though my siblings and I paid for our own policies, being on the same group policy saved us a lot of money.
Having too many traffic tickets tied to this policy had the potential to have our insurance cancelled. My tickets were for not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign and speeding. I even got a ticket for having frost on my windshield while driving the four city blocks to my 3:30 a.m. janitorial job. My reprieve for these offenses was that my father had even more tickets than I did. They were for the same things, speeding, running stop signs, and not signaling at a corner.
As the father of four children, I got to experience this ticket trouble only once. It was a speeding ticket in Heyburn where it seems their entire city budget is built around giving tickets for speeding. The peril for the child that got the ticket was that I did not hear about it in advance, rather I read it in the daily police reports a few days later. This was a breach of the Lenkersdorfer cardinal rule of giving bad news early and it got that child banned from driving for about a month.
Perhaps the final insult to me was when this child blamed the speeding ticket on me. Apparently he was angry at something I had said or done and that caused him to speed, or so the story went. Not accepting responsibility for your actions only highlighted the speeding ticket.
Good news can wait – bad news early, regardless of the situation will always be the best option so far as I’m concerned.