Al was six years old when his father summoned him for a very important assignment. The older man asked the boy if he would be willing to take on an important responsibility. That assignment would change the young man’s life.
Al gulped and nodded nervously. His father handed him a sealed envelope and told him to take it down the street to the neighborhood police department and give it to a uniformed officer. “Wait there until he reads it,” commanded the father. “Can you do that?”
Al quickly agreed. With the envelope firmly in his grip, he raced out of the house, filled with pride for having been entrusted with such an important assignment. When he arrived at his destination, he approached the officer on duty and handed him the envelope. He waited patiently as the officer opened it and began to read the note.
The expression on the policeman’s face changed briefly to one of confusion. It was quickly replaced with amusement. He finished reading the note and said to Al, “Come with me.”
The little boy followed the police officer through several doors until he found himself standing in front of an empty jail cell. He looked at the policeman for an explanation, but the officer simply pointed to the cell and said, “Get in.”
The moment Al stepped inside, the policeman slammed the door shut. With the clang of the steel door still echoing in Al’s ears, the police officer said, “This is what we do to naughty boys.” With no further explanation, the man turned and walked away, leaving a confused and frightened little boy alone in a jail cell, wondering what on earth he could have possibly done to warrant such a fate.
How long was he in the cell? To Al, it seemed like years. In reality, it was only about five minutes before the policeman returned and unlocked the door. He told Al he was free to go, and the little boy needed no further encouragement. He sprinted from the police station and didn’t stop until he was safely at home in his bedroom.
His father never said a word to him about the incident. To his dying day, Al didn’t know what he had done to cause his father to teach him such a traumatic lesson. Perhaps he hadn’t done anything at all. Maybe his father just wanted him to have a taste of what life could be like if Al chose a life of crime.
Regardless of the father’s motivations, Al was determined never to get in trouble. That day triggered a lifetime journey of anxiety and fear. Al would forevermore be fearful of authority figures such as policemen, teachers, and priests. It led to him refusing to learn how to drive, thus ensuring he could never be pulled over and given a ticket.
This fearful boy grew up to be a very nervous man. His fears ranged from the common, such as fear of heights and fear of falling, to the unusual ovophobia: fear of eggs. He never overcame his worry that he would be wrongfully accused and punished in the way that he was for those fateful five minutes when he was six years old.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that his childhood trauma crippled him, however. Far from it. Al realized that if he couldn’t get rid of his fears, he could at least master them by making them work to his benefit.
In fact, he finally got to the point where he was grateful for the experience. He even referred to it as good fortune. Toward the end of his life, Al said, “My good luck in life was to be a really frightened person. I’m fortunate to be a coward, to have a low threshold of fear, because a hero couldn’t make a good suspense film.”
Yes, the little boy who was inexplicably imprisoned for something he didn’t do grew up to use the “wrong man” motif in such films as The Wrong Man. The man who was afraid of heights built upon that fear to give us Vertigo. The fellow who was so oddly scared of eggs was the mastermind behind the classic film The Birds.
What became of the fear-filled boy who was sent to jail by his father? He grew up to become Hollywood’s master of suspense: Alfred Hitchcock.