The Benefits of Positive Reinforcement: The Wonderful Story of Billy and His Son

Billy had a son who was in kindergarten. Billy had been widowed since his son was about 2.

Billy was a good man, and he was a good father. So it troubled him when his son's kindergarten teacher told him that the boy was struggling in school and might be beneficial for him to redo kindergarten.

Billy sat with his son and decided to encourage him with rewards.

“Son, I tell you what. If you do very well the last 4 months of kindergarten, then I'll buy you anything you want when the year is over. Deal?”

“Deal,” said the son. They shook on it and went to the park to play.

At the end of the kindergarten year, Billy met with his son's teacher and she was ecstatic about the vast improvements that the son had made. Billy was so proud of his son.

“Hey! I'm so proud of you! Since you kept the end of your bargain, it's my turn. What do you want me to buy you?”

“Daddy, I think I want 2 pink ping pong balls.”

Billy was confused by his son's request.

“Son, maybe you don't understand. I'll take you to the toy store and buy you anything you want! What would you like?”

“I just want 2 pink ping pong balls.”

Billy didn't think much more about it. His son wanted 2 pink ping pong balls and he saves a little cash. Everyone wins.

Billy was so pleased with the results that he decided to make the same arrangements for 1st grade.

With every report card that came with the highest markings, Billy offered to reward his son with any toy. Each time that offer was made, Billy's son requested 2 pink ping pong balls.

Billy tried to explain to his son that he could get anything, but the young boy was insistent on the 2 pink ping pong balls. After about the 3rd quarter, Billy stopped trying to argue and/or convince his son otherwise. His mind was made. He was stubborn, like his late wife. And that made Billy smile.

The Son finished 1st grade with all the highest marks.

Second grade rolled along, and Billy made the same deal. For every report card that had only the highest marks, the two would go to a toy store to buy anything the Son wanted. At the end of the 1st quarter, the Boy came home with all high marks. Billy was so immensely proud. But he knew the pattern now.

“Let me guess… 2 pink ping balls?”

“YES!” the Son would gleefully exclaim.

2nd grade: 4 report cards, 8 pink ping balls.

Billy was proud of his son. His son was ecstatic with the pink pong balls.

It did bother him a little bit, that all his son wanted was pink ping pong balls. He was wondering if he should be worried, but the Boy was normal in all aspects.

3rd grade: 4 report cards, All straight A's — 2 pink pong balls requested for each report card.

Not only was Billy's son doing well in his classes, but he was also very intelligent for his age.

Billy was no longer worried about his son's obsession (?) with ping pong balls. But curiosity replaced his worry. He had no idea what his son did with the ping pong balls. And why pink? That's not even the normal color of ping pong balls. White is the most common. And maybe orange. But pink? The local sports store owner knew to stock at least 8 pink ping pong balls for Billy and his son.

4th grade rolled around and Father and Son kept the tradition of the reward system. It was no longer needed, as the boy was a bit more advanced than his classmates. But it became tradition. Billy no longer asked what the boy wanted, with every report card with straight A's, he'd have 2 pink ping pong balls ready for him.

5th grade rolled around and for a brief moment when Billy looked over the 1st quarter's report card, he thought that this phase of ping pong balls had passed.

“Do you want a new video game system, Son?”

“Eventually. But for my grades, I'd like my usual, please.”

6th grade was long gone. The Son had finished each quarter with straight A's that earned him 8 more pink ping pong balls.

When his son went to summer camp, Billy's curiosity took over and Billy began to search the boy's room for any sign of ping pong balls. It was odd to Billy that he'd never see the ping pong balls after they were given to his son.

What did he do with them?

Where did he hide them?

Why ping pong balls?

He fanatically searched the entire house, but not a single trace of ping pong balls could be found.

On the first day of 7th grade, Billy's son asked, “Dad? Are we still on for the report card deal?”

“You betcha. Now remember, son. Anything you want. Go make me even more proud!”

7th grade: straight A's all 4 quarters. 8 pink ping pong balls.

Throughout the course of 8th grade, Billy bought 8 pink ping pong balls for his son.

He was now a teenager and it was painfully obvious this was not phase.

But more than worried, Billy was curious. He even try to talk about the pink ping balls with his son, but never really got any answer. Just a smile.

9th grade. Straight A's. 2 pink ping balls per quarter = 8 pink ping balls, total.

10th grade: Straight A's all throughout the year. 8 pink pong balls, total.

11th grade: Straight A's. Tested very well on SATs. Billy asked his son if he wanted anything for a good job well done for SATs. The response? 2 pink ping balls. A total of 10 pink ping balls given for Billy's son's junior year.

12th grade: Billy was valedictorian. He received a full ride to Harvard. After his speech and ceremony, his dad approached and gave him a near suffocating bear hug.

“Son. Oh my. Your mom would be so proud of you. And, I… well, dammit son, I'm so lucky to have a son like you.”

Billy had 2 pink ping pong balls in his pocket, but he thought he'd tried to convince his son of requesting something bigger, after all, he deserved it!

“Hey son! What about a car? We can get you a new car!”

“Nah, Dad. I'm okay without a car.”

“Well, how about a new laptop or computer, you know, for college and stuff?”

“I'm okay with the one I have. Dad, do I really have to say what I really want?”

“Of course not, Son” and Billy handed his son the 2 pink ping pong balls.

“Awesome! Thanks, Dad!” The same response his son gave each and every single time.

As Billy watched his son run off to greet his friends, Billy wondered about the possibilities with all those ping pong balls.

Did he store him?

Is he building something? If so, what?

Is cutting them up for some reason? Why?

And why pink? It's not the color, per se, that bothered him. But the fact that it's not the usual color for ping pong balls.

At the end of each semester of college, Billy sent his son 2 pink ping pong balls, because Billy would finish each semester with straight A's. And it was tradition.

It made Billy smile knowing that his son would still want 2 pink ping pong balls. And he knew that his son would smile in receiving them.

Billy wondered what his son did with the ping pong balls there. If he started a new collection, or if he somehow took all his collection from home with him. Which would be odd, because Billy could never find them anywhere in the house, no matter how much and how hard he looked.

12 pink ping pong balls into Billy's son's college career, Billy received a dreadful phone call — the kind that no parent wants to receive.

His son was in a terrible accident and requested Billy's presence. Harvard was about 4 hours away, so Billy got into the car and drove, praying that his son would be alright.

When Billy arrived to the hospital, he was met by the doctor with a solemn face.

“Sir, I'm sorry. We've tried everything, but we don't think he's going to make it. However, miraculously, he still has consciousness. Go sit next to him. Talk to him. Say your goodbyes.”

Billy couldn't believe what he was hearing. He didn't know that his heart could break the way it was breaking. Losing his wife was a horrific pain, but this — this was worse.

He walked into his son's room and the sight of his son in tubes and bandages broke his already broken heart even more.


“…Dad? Is that you?”

“Yea. It's me… Son, I love you.”

“I know,” his son tried to smile. “I love you, too.”

Billy held his son's hand treasuring every breath that his son took.

They had little conversations here and there about nothing and everything.

Billy could tell that the life was fading out of him. And Billy — though he didn't want to — just had to ask.


“Yea, Dad?”

“I love you. You know that.”

“Of course. And, I love you too.”

“You… you make me so proud. You are the best son anyone could ever ask for,” Billy tried to stop the tears that were coming. “But Son. I do have something I want to ask you.”

“Sure, Dad. What is it?”

“Well, you know… since kindergarten, all you ever wanted after each report card was 2 pink ping pong balls. I… I just want to know… why? Why did you want the pink ping pong balls? What did you do with them? Where are they? I mean over the years, I searched high and low for any sign of a pink ping ball but didn't find any of them. Not. A. Single. Trace.”

Billy's son was smiling at this point.

“Son. Help this old man. Why did you want 2 pink ping pong balls, and what did you do with them?”

Billy son looked his dad in the eye and gently smiled.

“Dad… I knew you'd be curious. It was nothing really. I know I must've freaked you out here and there with my requests. And I always appreciated that you wouldn't pry too much and still got me the pink ping balls.” Billy's son's words were interrupted by a coughing fit.

After the coughing subsided, Billy's son took a deep breath that made Billy take a deep breath.

Billy's near 17 year curiosity was going to be answered. The thoughts and possibilities were running wild in Billy's head.

“Dad… the reason why I wanted those pink ping balls…”

“Yea, Son? Why?”

“Dad, the reason why I asked for 2 pink ping pong balls each time was…”

And in that tragic moment, Billy's son died in that hospital bed with Billy by his side.





Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

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