Sure, Nicholas and I filled the living room with a giant, muddy tree. But that pales in comparison to the trouble our dad and his brother Ted caused over the holidays when they were kids.

Now, I don’t know what Christmas in the 1950s was like exactly. I’m assuming it involved things like fighting off woolly mammoths and walking uphill both ways to attend a four-hour Midnight Mass. But what I do know is that one glorious December 25th, Dad and Uncle Ted finally got the BB gun they had been begging for.

Like Ralphie Parker with his air rifle in A Christmas Story, Dad and Ted’s excitement was through the roof. And like Ralphie, they should have heeded the prophetic warning from the film — “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.”

Leaving Grandma and Grandpa Martin to their sober second thoughts about their gift-giving choices, the boys scampered off to the barn to play with their new “toy.” 

So what is the best way to test out a new BB gun? Target practice with tin cans? Painting a bullseye on the barnboards? Both sensible ideas. But both a bit … dull. No, Dad and Ted had a different idea in mind. (I won’t say a “better” idea, because Lord knows it wasn’t.)

They decided that the most appropriate way to spend Christmas morning was to take turns shooting each other. 

Dad handed the gun to Ted and began racing around the barn while his big brother tried to pick him off. Diving inside a pigpen, Dad crouched behind the low wall for cover. The seconds ticked by as he waited for just the right moment to make a run for it.

He chose the wrong moment.

The second Dad popped his head out, Ted took the shot. And Ted’s always been a good shot. 

The BB tore through the cold barn air, lodging itself in Dad’s face, mere millimetres below his eye. Blood and tears flowed from Dad’s face in equal measure.

The thought of Dad losing an eye certainly scared the baby bejeezus out of them. But the thought of losing their brand-new BB gun the same day they got it? That scared them more. So rather than rush Dad into the house so their parents could get him to a hospital, Ted decided to roll up his sleeves and try his hand at ocular surgery.

How difficult could it be?

Quite, as it turned out. With Dad writhing in pain, Ted attempted to dislodge the pellet from his brother’s bloody face in the filthy, dimly lit barn. Unable to pop the BB out of Dad’s eye (which was now completely swollen shut), they eventually conceded defeat. 

Perhaps Mom wouldn’t notice, they reasoned as they sneaked back inside the house, hoping for a Christmas miracle. Thankfully, a boy who’s been shot in the face is hard to miss, and Grandma rushed Dad to the ER immediately. The surgeon told him that an eighth of an inch higher and he’d have lost the eye.

Dad spent five days in the hospital. While his peers filled their holidays with tobogganing and other merrymaking, Dad spent his getting daily needles in the butt to ward off infections. I guess a dusty barn filled with pig manure isn’t the most sanitary of places to get shot in the face with a BB gun. Who knew?

Naturally, they never saw the gun again. (Although Uncle Ted did go on to become an avid hunter.)

Facing the consequences of your decisions can be scary and unpleasant. But trying to cover something up can turn little problems into big ones. Indeed, things could have ended a whole lot worse if Dad and Uncle Ted had succeeded in hiding the bloody incident from Grandma. 

Don’t let pride, embarrassment or fear prevent you from getting the help you need when you’re in over your head. In addition to keeping molehills from becoming mountains, taking ownership of your mistakes shows good character and leadership qualities. 

Because everybody makes mistakes. But being upfront about yours when they happen can help build trust and respect with the people around you, as it demonstrates honesty and a willingness to take responsibility for your actions.

Finally, acknowledging that you’ve made a mistake in the first place is the only way you’ll learn from them. It sucks being responsible for something gone awry, and it’s easy to slip into blaming others or rationalizing your choices. But by accepting the role you played in a problem, you’re able to grow as a person and ensure you don’t make the same mistakes again.

I made my fair share of mistakes when I had leukemia. And admitting to them was always the right call. Sometimes that meant telling my nurses that I forgot to take a certain drug so they could course-correct my treatment. Other times it meant confessing that I had foolishly ate a pile of junk food so they could identify the source of my nausea.

Because nine times out of ten, owning up to your mistakes is the best way to go — whether you’ve dropped the ball at work, you’ve forgotten your partner’s birthday, or you’re lying in a pigpen on Christmas morning with a BB lodged in your eye.

Next: Chapter 23 — The toboggan hill: What sledding battles taught me about approaching problems from different angles