Al Batt: I’m no Latin scholar — mea culpa isn’t my fault

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

Al Batt

I’d turn pro if there was an apologetic league.

I can say “I’m sorry” with the best of them.

Email newsletter signup

I can say “I was wrong,” but it takes more effort.

My difficulty is nothing compared to politicians who refuse to admit being wrong even when provided with irrefutable proof of their errors (there’s no bottom to politics) or from economists who claim to have been right even when they were wrong.

The discomfort preceding my admission to being wrong is genetic. I inherited it from my father. I loved my father, as good a man as I’ve ever known and so friendly that when he drove, his right hand had a permanent wave. He was law-abiding, never once considered scraping the gold leaf from the poor farm’s sign, and he was as honest as the longest day. There are 26 letters in the alphabet and my father made good use of all of them, but he had trouble arranging them in the proper order to sound like “I was wrong.” It’s no puzzlement. Achilles had his heel and we all have a myriad of flaws. We’re complicated creatures that dogs and cats try to figure out.

Dad was human and humans are wrong a lot. He was an amateur when compared to me, but he was occasionally wrong and he’d attempt to say he was wrong. He was seldom successful. His honesty cloaked everything except admitting being incorrect. He was one of those guys who didn’t know the meaning of “quit” or “being wrong.”

An admission of being mistaken wasn’t in him. It was what was expected of the men of his generation. They were supposed to be right. It wasn’t manly to be otherwise.

Anything they said could and would be used against them in a court of law. I remember a daylong argument he and two of his brothers had about a car. There was a good chance all three of them had been wrong, but there was no finish line to the disagreement. No winner was declared. It was easy to be wrong and not know it in those days before Google. I recall a day when Dad had reached the age where he had spring in his heart but fall in his arches. My mother left a pizza-in-a-box product for us while she went off to church. We called them cardboard pizzas. I heated it in the oven and served it with a smile, hoping for a tip. We sat at the kitchen table and munched. The pizza had the standard deviations of flavor expected from such foodstuffs, so the topping was difficult to identify. Dad said it was hamburger but I knew it was a sausage. We each pleaded our case. We could have settled the matter by going to the trash can and pulling the pizza box from it, but we didn’t do that. We were too tired to be right, but not too tired to argue. Even with online help, men are as wrong today as they were then. I’ve checked the figures. I think today’s men are better at admitting their errors — unless they’ve already consulted a lawyer.

Many a man has been described by his ever-loving wife this way, “I thought I’d married Mr. Right, but I wed Mr. Always Right instead.”

The International Organization of Faultless Men suggests every man say, “I’m wrong,” with sincerity once a quarter and that should cover him for three months.

When my father was caught being wrong, he’d immediately say he was sorry. Without meaning to, he’d taught me that if you’re not right, you apologize. He’d try to say

“I was wrong,” but the words were seldom more than a tremble on his lips. That square on his bingo card remained unfilled. What he said was something that changed the subject.

“This could be the year the Cubs win the pennant,” he’d say.

I’m going to try that the next time I’m wrong, which should be any minute now. I’ll say “I’m sorry” and be relieved to get it over with.

I’ll try to say, “I was wr…”

But it will come out, “Do you think the Twins will take the crown in the AL Central this year?”

Al Batt’s columns appear in the Tribune every Wednesday.