“Where did you get this wallet?” I asked.
“Fred* gave it to me,” he said.
It is a pretty popular name, and there is a Fred in his class. Fred is a very nice kid, but he tends to run afoul of rules and structure on a regular basis. That’s not really any of my business, and I know it is being addressed by those whose business it is. I just make sure that Zane knows to jump ship when good intentions hit the iceberg of bad decision and the moment starts to sink.
“If someone is making a bad choice, and you can’t stop them, that doesn’t mean you have to make it with them,” I say.
“I know,” he answers.
And he does. The kid keeps his nose clean—usually with his finger.
“Why did he give you a wallet?” I asked.
“He said he didn’t want it,” he answered.
“Was it his to give?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he replied.
I looked in the wallet, which, at first glance, appeared empty. There was a zipper and I pulled it open to reveal $46 in small, unmarked bills. I looked around for cameras and/or police. Nothing.
“Did you know that there was money in here?”
“I think we should take this to your teacher.”
“Because the money isn’t mine, right?”
We started down the hall and bumped into some neighbors. We exchanged pleasantries, which is the way I was raised, and then the conversation took a turn.
“Did Fred give Zane the wallet?” asked the mother.
Then it dawned on me that her son was also named Fred, and that I had been working under false assumptions and a bit of miscommunication.
“He did,” I answered. “Did you know there was money in it?”
She did not. Fred did not. Apparently Fred has a wealth of wallets and for some reason had decided to give one of them to Zane. I wasn’t sure why, but he had his mother’s blessing and Zane seemed to like it, so I figured it was okay.
“How much?” they asked.
I told them the amount and their jaws dropped.
We returned the money, kept the wallet, and walked to the car. Fred gave Zane a dime in reward.
All I could think about was how awkward it would have been had we not seen Fred and his mother, but had shown up in Zane’s classroom on the fourth day of school to return a bunch of money to a kid without a clue. It would have been uncomfortable for all of us.
“We need to communicate better,” I said.
“Okay,” he answered.
I spent the next few minutes gathering my thoughts and preparing one of my classic dad talks where I drop knowledge, tenderness, a touch of humor, and a big chunk of life lesson. I live for those moments. It never came.
“Do you know why we needed to return that money?” he asked from the backseat.
“Because, when you find something that someone lost, even if they don’t know they lost it, you need to return it. If someone found something I lost I hope they’d give it back to me. That’s the right thing to do, Daddy. We should always do the right thing.”
And then he started talking about ice cream and whether or not a dime could buy some. I couldn’t hear him. My head was too loud with echoes of talks that came before, and the sound made by pride swelling.
I pulled into the next ice cream shop we saw.
*Name changed for obvious reasons