I'd always found it odd seeing my brother as a father. I still remembered when we were kids, running around on the playground acting a fool. And now, he had a kid. When John had asked if I wanted to come with to pick him up, I'd said yes. Any chance to see my favourite nephew. Unfortunately, the storm brewing up above seemed to have found its figurtive counterpart as both John and J.J. were wearing scowls on their face when they came back.
From the moment they stepped in the car, I'd made a point not to ask what was going on. Some maternal instinct buried deep inside me passed down from our mother told me that I needed to give John space to parent. And right now, John was using some kind of silent treatment technique on J.J. which seemed to work wonders because the fourteen-year-old couldn't sit still.
"Dad, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
Damn, he does look so sorry, I thought. What on earth happened?
J.J. continued to plead. "Please Dad, you have to know how sorry I am." A long pause went by that felt like a lifetime as this boy tried to plead with the man who shared his name. But I still couldn't figure out what was going on. What was he sorry about? "Dad, I didn't mean what I wrote."
Now we were getting somewhere. This was about something that J.J. wrote. But what could you have written that's got Johnny so angry?
"That's a lie," said John finally.
The desperation in J.J.'s eyes told the whole story. Just hearing his father's voice was enough to give him hope. He spoke quickly. "No, Dad. I am I really am," he said, desperately.
John, still calm, cool and collected as ever, spoke evenly. "If you didn't mean what you said in that letter, then why did you write it?"
As I registered this new information on what this was about, I found myself somehow getting more curious. Okay, so J.J. wrote some unflattering letter. But to whom and what on earth did it say?
"It was meant to be a joke."
I gritted my teeth the moment the words slipped out of J.J.'s mouth. If only you'd asked me, kid. I would've told you not to even try that one.
"Don't make me stop this car, jump over there and smack you, boy. Only cowards say something so hurtful and then try and pretend that it was supposed to be funny. That's not why you wrote that letter! And if you even want a shot at forgiveness, you better start telling the truth."
"But I said I'm sorry, Dad."
John saw that he was getting nowhere. "Son, tell me why you wrote that letter. I want to know what was going through your mind when you said those things that you said."
"Because I know you, my boy. And what you said in there, it didn't sound like you. It sounded like you were someone else, or trying to be someone else. So what's going on? The truth this time."
This time it was J.J. that went silent for a long time before eventually answering. "I guess I just wanted to see what happened. See what it was like not to be a good little boy."
More silence. But from what I knew of my brother, I could tell that this silence meant that John had heard his son. In fact, from what I could tell, there was some kind of peace of mind in John now, like he knew what he was dealing with."
"Well, you are a good boy, son. And you know why that it? Because we raised you that way. Which is why your mother and I will be grounding you for the next ten weeks."
Tears began to well in the young boy's eyes. "But I thought if I told you the truth, you'd forgive me. Why can't you see that I'm already feeling bad about this. Why do you need to make it worse?"
They came to a stop street and John took the opportunity to turn back and look at his son."Jay-Jay, I'm not angry with you. I could never truly be angry with you. Not after telling me the truth. But I am disappointed in you. I thought you knew better than to say things like that. I thought we'd taught you to say better things than that."
While J.J. couldn't see it – couldn't see past his own pain – I could see it. I saw it in John's eyes: the disappointment. But not in his son but rather in himself. He blamed himself for whatever this letter said. He blamed himself for failing his son.
"And as for your punishment, son. Punishment is not just some kind of payback for doing something wrong. It's a way of reminding you about what you did so that you remember not to do it again. So when you take your punishment, every time you think it's unfair, I want you to think about that letter and consider your achievement: you humiliated a classmate and that's going to stick with them for the rest of high school. Until then, they'll never be free."
J.J. finally seemed to be coming to terms with what was going on and was no longer arguing with John. There was something about knowing his father wasn't truly angry with him that made him feel better. But John knew he had to be assertive and make sure he didn't feel too fine too soon... at least not before this classmate.
"And you'll also be apologising to your classmate. That's who you owe an apology. And since you're so fond of writing, you can start by writing them a letter. Something supportive but also shows that you'll be giving them space."
While I didn't have any children of my own, I couldn't help but be proud of my brother. He not only disciplined his child but also showed that he loved him.