It was my junior year in college before I had the unfortunate experience of meeting, for the first time, a man who did not keep his word.
He had been, as it turned out, temporarily, put in charge of a newspaper that was struggling with its first computer system. There was a lot of imputing that needed to be done such as press releases, obituaries, public service announcements and birth announcements.
Proud as a peacock of his ascension to management, albeit a brief one, he called and asked if I would consider a part-time job. I had just finished an internship there so I was fairly certain that I was being hired for the stellar job I had done answering the telephone, handing out the mail and making coffee. I was going to school full-time and already I had two regular part-time jobs, one at a radio station and another at a dress shop. But I desperately wanted to work in newspaper.
“You need to input all of this,” he motioned with his cigar to a desk stacked two feet high with papers on the afternoon I first reported for work. “When you get all of this finished, I’ll let you fill in as a reporter. I’ll make you a regular part-timer. You can cover council meetings and the such.”
I was so excited to have my third job, on my way to being an official reporter. Every morning, I arrived by 5 a.m., typed frantically until 7:45 then dashed off for my 8 a.m. Southern Lit class with Mrs. Nancy Story. It took a month but I got it all done and though I was sleep deprived, I was ready to move on to the big league of having my byline appear in the newspaper. Mama was going to be so proud.
“I never told you that,” he said, laughing when I asked about the newsroom job. “This was always a temporary job.”
“That’s not what you said!” I protested.
“Of course, it was,” he grinned sinisterly and chewed on his cigar. It was the first time that anyone had ever lied to me and the thought of it, for the next couple of years, would cause great, steamy anger to arise in me. I have remembered it always.
I suppose it made such an impression on me because I had been raised in a home where the truth was hallowed. And even more sacred than the truth was the obligation to keep any promise made. If you said you would, you did. If you committed, you stood by it. In this, there was never any gray area.
“Daddy, did you get that color construction paper I need for my class project?” I asked one night. I was 11.
He turned and looked at me steadily for a moment before answering. “Did I tell you I’d get it?”
“Then, little girl, you can be assured that I did it. It’s in there on the kitchen table.”
I grew up in a safe environment because I knew there was never any second guessing or looking over my shoulder. I learned that nothing is more comforting than knowing a person stands behind his word and can always be counted on. I feel that way about my sister. I know she is always as good as her word. That means a lot.
There is downside to being raised that way – no matter how old you get, you still expect that a man will keep his word. When someone asks for a piece of advice on career, the first thing that comes to me is, “Do what you say you’re going to do.”
When people find out that they can count on you, they’re always ready to count you in. I think it’s the surest way to success.
[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “Mark My Words: A Memoir of Mama.” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.]