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  • Doug Tjapkes

Some people in Washington DC didn’t have a dad like mine!

It was early in the 1940s. A little boy named Doug Tjapkes went down the street to play with his friends Billy and Chucky. Playing in their spacious back yard was always fun. And, their mother had a nice vegetable garden back there. On that particular day, Billy and Chucky asked me if I liked to throw tomatoes. Well, I had never considered it...we didn’t raise tomatoes at our house. So, we all gave it a try, and I must admit it was fun. The neighbor lady had just received a new shipment of cement blocks across the alley, and we splatted tomato after tomato against that block stack. Much later in the day, my father asked me if I had been playing with Billy and Chucky. I allowed that I had. Then he asked if I had thrown tomatoes. Yep, I said, we all did. Turns out the owner of those cement blocks was a customer of my dad’s neighborhood grocery, and she was steamed. The elder Tjapkes assured me that, after supper, he and I would take a walk to Mrs. Smith’s house and tell her that we were sorry. Supper hour was somber. Turns out that Mrs. Smith was very kind, but pointed out that Billy and Chucky had placed all the blame on me. I would learn later just why my dad wasn’t all that surprised. He had had some unfavorable business dealings with their father earlier, and had experienced similar behavior. Trickle down. Well, I learned two important things from that experience. Number one, the harsh reality of life is that some people without a strong moral compass won’t accept blame...they’ll pin it on you or someone else. And even more important than that, number two: Apology is an integral part of the Christian walk. The writer of Proverbs says: Train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not depart from it. Over the years, as I have helped dozens of prisoners prepare their applications for clemency, I always stress the importance of owning up to their mistakes and offering a genuine apology. We all blow it at one time or another. But we don’t all admit it! As I’m reading the major news stories of the day, I’m struck by the fact that many public officials obviously didn’t have John Tjapkes as their father. I can assure you that, if they had, some headlines would be different.

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