It’s a pretty famous episode. And it’s almost cringe-worthy by today’s standards.
Arnold keeps riding his bike on the sidewalk, which, in Mayberry, is a no no. He was warned by Barney Fife, himself. But then he continued to do it. So Arnold was taken to the Sheriff’s office for justice.
The “hearing” consisted of Andy spelling out what the actual statute said, chapter and verse. Arnold’s dad pleaded “he’s only a kid and none of it really hurt anybody. It’s just a bike on a sidewalk. Sheesh!”
But Andy retorted that people come in and out of those stores, onto that sidewalk all the time. It’s dangerous to ride a bike there. And that made the absurd arrest start to make a little more sense. Although, I was still pretty much on Arnold’s dad’s side: it’s just a kid on a bike. Do we have to go through all this?
But then Andy pushes harder and demands that the bike be impounded, as per letter of the law. And Arnold starts to cry. And the dad’s case seems to be stronger. I mean, why do this to a kid? Let him ride the silly bike!
But then Andy pushes even harder and threatens to put Arnold’s dad in jail. This seems beyond all reasonable standards and practices. I mean, really? Putting someone in jail for their kid riding a bike on the sidewalk???
But that’s when we see Arnold’s true character emerge. And it’s not good. Arnold goes from crying contrite tears to thumbing his nose at the law, declaring that his dad can take a day in jail with no problem because he’s “tough.” Arnold’s dad realizes that his son is willing to sell him out JUST to keep doing what he’s doing without consequence. And you can see, by the look on his face, that he now knows that his sweet, innocent little boy, who cuddled with him next to the fire and called him “da da” when he was a baby, and learned to walk by holding his hand, is turning into a bad person.
In the next scene, Arnold’s dad is taking him out to the “woodshed” to get spanked. This scene would ignite world-wide controversy, were it to be aired today. I can only speculate as to how many child psychologists would be paraded through the talking head zones of every major (and minor) cable outlets, seething in righteous indignation toward the moralization of child abuse.
Of course, this wasn’t anything controversial at the time. It was just the Andy Griffith show.
But this episode reminds us of what we will do for our children and how we justify things when it’s “out kids.”
It’s hard to imagine that your child will end up being a bad person. It’s almost the hardest thing to imagine. To you, they are always the three-year-old sweetie who brought you unsolicited gifts and ran without abandon into your arms, giggling and squirming. They were your joy. They were your life. They were your hope. And when you find out that their character can be just as corrupt as every other human’s, it’s a sad day. You simply don’t see them that way. As Arnold’s dad said, “he’s a good boy.” That’s how all of us see our boys. I’ve said that very thing about my own son, after he’s done questionable things.
My wife and I always shocked our kids’ teachers by telling them, at the beginning of every school year, that we were on THEIR side. If we got bad reports from school, we were going to be on the side of the teachers. NOT our son. We told him that as well. The teachers have always told us that that is the exact opposite of most people. In most cases, the teachers are having to fight the kids AND the kids’ parents when it comes to a dispute. But that’s how society breaks down. And that’s how we begin to erode the law.
Our son always knew we would be fair. He always knew we had his best interests at heart. But not at the expense of allowing him to break rules and get away with it.
We currently have a political climate where rules and statutes and actual laws are being interpreted by those who, like Arnold’s dad, only see what they want to see. We’re assigning INTENT to our opponents in ways I’ve never seen.
I’ve interviewed Adam Schiff. He seemed like a reasonable person and we even shared a laugh or two. But when I watched him literally make up a scenario that didn’t happen, and read it into a congressional record – then later ADMIT that it was made up as “parody” – I wondered if he’d actually broken a law. And I felt a little like Arnold’s dad. And it saddened me.
I see Joe Biden standing next to his son and I know he loves him. He lost one son already, and I can only imagine what he would do for the surviving children. Did he do something illegal to help him out? I don’t know. I know the kid was troubled and had some substance abuse problems that got him sent out of the military. Would I help MY son out in a similar situation? I know I would want to.
I see a president sniping and fighting and tweeting and I know that he was, at one time, someone’s little three-year-old boy, playing and giggling and bringing smiles to his parents’ faces.
The reason we have laws and facts and rules of evidence, is because we’re all “Arnold” at one time or another. Or we’re Arnold’s dad. And we see the person; the baby boy without malice; the sweet kid; the bubbly little life, incapable of wrong doing. But the law sees the crime and the evidence. And sometimes it’s hard to separate the two.
I think all parents have a fear that one day their child will inadvertently commit a crime (maybe they didn’t even know they were committing) and we’ll be faced with a choice to either turn them in or help cover it up. I know it’s a weird fear to have. But parents think about these things. My biggest fear in all of it, is that I wouldn’t think twice about helping cover it up. I’ve worked in prisons. I would never want one of my children to live in one. None of us want that for our children.
Maybe the best thing we can do, to keep that from ever happening, is to not let them get away with riding their bikes where they’re not supposed to, in the first place.
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