Scooter Braun was 14, but he remembers that day as if it were yesterday. He can point to several lessons he learned throughout his life—like when his parents took him to work at a soup kitchen during the holidays to remind him that his gifts in life were to be used to help other people—but this day was, he says, “a very pivotal moment in my life.”
Braun was playing basketball in his driveway when his dad came outside. The day before, Scooter had gotten into trouble for telling “a small white lie,” so he was grounded, not allowed to hang out with his friends. When he talks about what happened next, he re-enacts the back-and-forth dialogue.
“Hey, I want to talk to you,” the elder Braun said. “I want to let you know something. I’ve been thinking a lot about last night.”
Here we go, Scooter remembers thinking.
“I want you to know you’re a liar,” his father said.
His dad was—and still is—one of his biggest heroes. The words stunned him.
“You’re 14. You’re on your way to being a young man,” he said. “But right now you’re a liar and you’ve got to decide if you want that.”
“You’re a liar,” his father repeated, “but I want you to know something I haven’t told you truthfully. I always taught you that if you lie, if you don’t treat people right, you’re not going to be successful in life, you’re going to be a failure. But I want you to know something: You’re a liar and you’re going to be very successful. Out of all my kids, I don’t worry about you. Nothing is going to stop you, but you’re going to know you’re a liar and I’m going to know you’re a liar.”
The father told his son that he wasn’t mad at him. “You’re 14. You’re on your way to being a young man,” he said. “But right now you’re a liar and you’ve got to decide if you want that.”
Then his father walked away.
The younger Braun sat down. He says he was devastated. He thought about it, and a few hours later, he went to talk to his dad.
“No,” the father said. “I want you to think about what I said. I’ll come talk with you again.”
But the young Scooter was persistent, even then. He tried again.
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“I want to talk to you,” he said.
“OK,” his dad said. “What’s up?”
“I appreciate you telling me I’m a liar, but I’m not a liar.”
“Yes, you are,” his father said.
“Fine,” Scooter said. “But I’ll tell you this right now, I’m not going to be a liar. I’m going to be someone who lives with integrity. And it might be harder, but I’m going to be successful and I’m not going to be a liar.”
His father smiled.
Michael J. Mooney is a journalist who writes for D Magazine, GQ, ESPN: The Magazine, Outside, SUCCESS and Popular Mechanics. He is co-director of the annual Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference. His stories have appeared in multiple editions of The Best American Sports Writing and The Best American Crime Reporting. He lives in Dallas with his fiancée, Tara, and their retired racing greyhound.