Stories from My Life, #7: I Pay a Price for Ignoring my Moral Compass

January 20, 2016 10:04 pm Published by 2 Comments

Moral Compass_17Jan16


In my series called “Stories from My Life,” I have picked events that are either interesting, humorous, or make a philosophical point. The story here is one of the latter: it highlights what is arguably the worst mistake I’ve made in my life.

A little background to give you perspective. My mother married Father No. 1 in her early twenties, and I was their only child. As things happen, they grew apart and divorced. My mother later remarried, resulting in Father No. 2. He adopted me, and my name changed from Paul Mark Widmeyer to Paul Mark Tag.

Until my mother remarried, I spent many a summer with Father No. 1, who lived in a neighboring state. I got to know him well, and we had a good rapport. That relationship changed dramatically after the adoption when Father No. 2 told me that I should no longer visit or have a relationship with Father No. 1. Since I was still in middle school at the time and under his control, I felt I had no choice but to do as he said.

Fast forward about a decade when I was busy earning a degree in meteorology at Pennsylvania State University. One day, I received a letter from Father No. 1, delivered through an intermediary. He wrote that he wanted to see me again and reestablish a relationship. Since it had been some years since we had last seen each other, the letter surprised me, but sounded reasonable. I was good to go.

Unfortunately (now, with twenty-twenty hindsight), I showed this letter to my parents. I still remember the uproar it caused when Father No. 2 made it very clear that Father No. 1 had given up his rights to me and that I should have no further contact. Case closed.

To be sure, I thought that Father No. 2’s edict was unreasonable. But at that point in my life (early twenties), I didn’t think that I could disobey him. However, somewhat to my credit, I chose to get a second opinion. I approached the one person at Penn State who I thought could provide some moral authority, a Protestant minister, to tell me what I should do. I gave him all the details. He explained that Father No. 2 was correct and that I owed my entire allegiance to him. But he also suggested that I write a long letter to Father No. 1, bringing him up to date on my life but, at the same time, informing him that I would no longer be a part of his life. To my ultimate regret, I did what he said.

It wasn’t many more years later that I learned that Father No. 1 had passed away; he remembered me in his will. I was aware that he had remarried. Although I knew that I was taking a big chance should Father No. 2 discover my duplicity, I took the risk and secretly contacted the second wife of Father No. 1. A lovely person, she welcomed me warmly, and I visited her at her home more than a few times. It was during one of those visits that she told me how devastated Father No. 1 had been upon receiving my letter and that he harbored resentment toward me until he died.

Looking back, who was right and who was wrong? No less than a man of the cloth had supported Father No. 2’s command. To be fair, that same minister might well answer my question differently today. But, to this day, I am ashamed of what I did. I understood that Father No. 2 was wrong to deny Father No. 1 the privilege of knowing me (his only child) as I grew up. I wish that I had had more backbone back then, to do what was just and decent.

What’s my point? In earlier blogs I have discussed a historical atrocity to which many Americans turned a blind eye. My historical novel, How Much Do You Love Me?, addresses the unjust internment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II. Although that story and my personal anecdote represent two vastly different situations, one involving a presidential order fueled by the drumbeat of anti-Japanese hysteria, and the other a questionable pronouncement by a family member, both events should remind us to never neglect our own moral compass. Surely God would expect nothing less.

Upcoming: Stories from my life, #8: California or bust, 7000 miles in 10 days

Previous: Stories from my life, #6: To Russia with love

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This post was written by paulmarktag


  • Linda Beaverson says:

    Enjoyed reading this, Paul.
    I think everyone has a lot of “if only” in our lives.
    I am sure Father No. 1 would be very proud of you for all you have done in your life.

  • Julie says:

    Enjoy reading this, I am not much of a writer. My story is much similar to your but I am Step Mother #2 raising three beautiful children. If things could be any different I agree that your father will be proud of you. It was nice to meet you. I loved your book.