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I trudged into the kitchen after a long bus ride. I thought it would have been faster to walk. For some reason I was the last stop. The good news was if I rode the bus in the morning, I would have a short trip. I headed up to my room to unload my backpack. No homework yet, but I wanted to get a handle on things. I have never been strong in the sciences, so I pulled out my Biology book and did the suggested reading on the syllabus.

Normally I was a solid ‘B’ student, without ever cracking a book, but this year I was determined to do better. My parents were not well off so if I planned to get into a good school, I would need some financial support. A scholarship would go a long way to make that dream happen.

Over the summer, Uncle John worked with me to figure out how I wanted my life to go. One of my goals was financial stability. I didn’t necessarily need to be rich but I wanted to be able to have a comfortable life. Once we created a map for the future, things became clear. A good education suddenly became a priority.

Some other things became clear, like being physically fit. To make the point that this would be part of my plan Uncle John had pulled out his high school yearbook. The previous fall they had had their reunion. He pulled out photos and we compared them to the yearbook photos. He let me draw my own conclusions. It was apparent physical fitness was now part of the plan. I was sure this was why he had talked to Coach Engels about me playing football.

The next thing we talked about was a solid moral foundation, one to use as a sounding board for decisions I would make. This goes beyond a religious aspect, though that was an important part of my life. This had to do more with becoming a man of integrity.

I remembered the example he gave me.

“Do you think you’re a man of your word?”

“Of course I am,” I answered.

He arched his eyebrows.

“So if you say you’ll do something you will do it?”

I stopped to think for a moment. There had to be a catch in there for him to be looking like that. Then I thought I caught it.

“Yes, with the exception of it causing harm to me or to someone else.”

“Interesting, you’re using your brain today. So if we take the exception of harm out of the equation you would say you are a man of your word?”

“Yes.”

“Would you agree being a man of your word is important in how others will perceive and interact with you?”

I looked at him in confusion. There had to be another trap in there. I couldn’t find it this time. If someone told me they would do something and then did it, would be better than not.

“Yes, I would agree.”

“Good. Let me give you two examples of your recent behavior and you tell me if you still think you are a man of your word.”

Oh, crap. Here we go.

“Yesterday you told me that you would dig postholes to finish the dirt road section. But when offered to go out for lunch you accepted instead.”

“Hang on, something better came up. No one would expect me to dig holes over getting off the farm for even an hour,” I reasoned.

He waited me out. He was good at that and sometimes it drove me to distraction. Then it hit me. The guys who placed the posts and strung the fence had to dig most of those holes and my uncle paid for the extra labor. My lunch had cost him an extra $200. I hung my head and he saw I realized what I did. I said I would do the work. I didn’t tell him I was not done, which caused a problem later.

“David, two things I want to point out. First is there are times that being a man of your word sucks. Remember three weeks ago when I told you we would go shopping for work clothes?”

“That was the night we went to dinner with that girl you’re sweet on.”

“Well, a better opportunity came up. I could’ve dumped you and gone out with Ann, but I made you a promise. I came to you and asked you if, in addition to getting you some clothes, you wanted to join us. How many guys do you know would have just gone on the date?”

“Almost everyone. I see your point. You kept your word, but when something better came up you worked it out so everyone was happy. So let me ask you, if I said no would you have gone on the date?”

“No.”

“Wow.”

“Let me give you some other examples. You like to gossip.”

I gave him a look.

“Don’t bullshit me, you tell me stuff all the time. If someone tells you something in confidence is it yours to retell?” he asked.

“No, I guess not.”

“But you still do it all the time. Do you really want to be the guy no one can share with because sharing with you means they will be sharing with everyone else?”

“No, of course not.”

“This becomes even more important when you start to date. The time you spend with a woman is not meant to be shared with anyone but that woman. Your partner may choose to share, but I would suggest you not be the one doing the sharing. 

“Two things I want you to take away from this. First is before you say you will do something, think it through. The second is to learn how to say no,” Uncle John said.

The final thing I put on my list was a healthy sex life. Since I currently didn’t have one, this was the area I would have to work on the hardest. Uncle John agreed this was important but was unwilling to help me out with it. Go figure.