Fathers Day 2021 (slightly belated…sorry, Dad)

Writing about my experience on Saturday and getting a glimpse of what it’s like to be a dad and have something happen to your kid, made me realize I haven’t written anything about Dad for Fathers Day this year. I put so much work into the piece about Saturday that I’m behind in posting something about the greatest father a son could have.

Y’all know I was always an athletic kid, and the simple reality is that kids who are good at sports don’t usually get bullied. It’s totally lameass, and it shows you what kids know, but that’s how it is.

It wasn’t until I was almost 11 that I got into a situation that made Dad decide that I needed to learn to take care of myself. There was a jerkoff at school (there’s always a jerkoff at school) who called me a ‘faggot’ because I was always hanging with Gardner and Turner. Looking back, the kid must have had issues…we were 10 and who was interested in girls back then anyway? Anyway, we got into what we can call an ‘altercation’ and he gave me a bloody nose.

That was the kind of thing that got teachers and principals hysterical. Yeah, ok, I cried some, but mostly because I was scared that I was bleeding, not because it hurt. They called Dad at work, and he told them to patch me up and send me home at the end of the day. He wasn’t going to leave work because his son had gotten…well…I reckon I did get beaten up that day.

Mom knew what happened. She was waiting for me when I got home from school and was seriously upset about the whole thing. The school nurse stopped my nose bleeding, and, while I was probably going to have a bruise or two in the morning, I was fine. Mom’s worked at schools her whole life, and she was of the opinion that it was the school’s job to take care of the situation. And she felt that they had botched it big time. Her son had gotten bullied and she wanted the bully seriously punished. Maya on Saturday reminded me a lot of Mom when she’d get all overprotective of us kids.

Dad got home from work at the usual time, but didn’t say anything about what had happened at school until after dinner. Then he came up to my room and closed the door like he usually did when we were going to have one of our ‘man-to-man’ talks.

“Ok, big guy,” he said. “Tell me what happened.”

So I told him: “Fred Taylor called me something, I told him he shouldn’t call me that, he asked if I was going to do something about it, I said no, so he called me a coward, then I ran at him, and…well…I reckon he beat me up and gave me a bloody nose.

“I’m not going to ask you what the kid called you,” Dad said, which was a huge relief, since I was pretty embarrassed about it, “but I’m going to trust you that it was something he shouldn’t have said.” It was always a great feeling to know that Dad was on my side, like he almost always was. “But no kid is gonna call my son a coward and give him a bloody nose and get away with it. If you’re going to be getting into fights, you might as well know how to win them.”

Dad boxed in the army and, when he retired from active service, was undefeated. I think he always knew he was going to teach me to fight…and maybe he was looking forward to it a little, too. It’s one of those things that a father can pass on to his son that can come in pretty dang useful later in life. Dad didn’t always approve of all the fights I got into, but, even back after I retired from baseball and was getting drunk and into fights several nights a week, he said “if you’re going to get into stupid fights, you might as well win them, too.”

I think Dad gave teaching me how to fight some thought. It sure seemed like he had a plan when he came back from the sporting goods store the next day with a heavy bag (which looked huge to a 10 year old kid), two pair of gloves, wraps, two sets of headgear and a mat.

I was actually pretty excited when I saw all the boxing gear. I was looking forward to getting back at Fred Taylor…and I was looking forward to doing something that would be just me and Dad.

Dad taught me a lot of things over the years, and his usual way of teaching was by having me first watch and then get my hands dirty when I thought I got it. The junk car we reverse engineered is a great example of that. Fighting was different from fixing a car, so Dad had to take a more active role in teaching me. And he had to start from the beginning: turns out I wasn’t even making a fist right…so no wonder Fred Taylor kicked my ass. He figured I was plenty strong from all the sports I played, so what I needed was a course in defense, how to take a punch, and, most importantly for the Wesson Block School of Pugilism, how to throw one. Dad’s theory was that, if you can hit hard you don’t need to connect a lot.

Although we had boxing gear on when Dad was teaching me, he didn’t really teach me to box. That’s why working with El Tigre is such a challenge even after all the fights I’ve been in. Footwork, Dad must have felt, wasn’t how you took care of the Fred Taylors of this world. He wasn’t even concerned with hand speed at the beginning, but then he changed his mind and got us a speed bag after all.

I don’t want y’all to think that Dad abused me physically or even that he was as rough as Keaton’s dad was with him when he was teaching him to fight, but Dad did hit me plenty hard a few times while we were working out in the garage. He said that I had to learn to take a punch, and that was the only way he knew how to teach me to do it. Dad never let loose with everything he had, but, yeah, I did get knocked down a few times.

“That’s why I got the mat, big guy,” he said the first time I was on my ass.

And Dad let me hit him, too, sometimes as hard as I could. He said it was the only way he could gauge how I was doing. It took a lot of years of sparring with him before I landed one that made him tell me that I couldn’t hit him as hard as I could anymore. I was dang proud of myself that evening. I could see Dad was proud of me, too…while he was trying to catch his breath lol.

Of course Mom was horrified at what we were doing. She was the one who thought that the school administration should have handled my problem with Fred Taylor, and, well, I reckon learning how to fight isn’t the kind of thing moms understand. She walked in on us one evening just as Dad hit me pretty hard in the gut to teach me how to take a punch in the stomach. She kinda freaked, and they had an argument about it. Mom wanted us all to grow up civilized, but I was the only boy, and Dad and Papaw both had plans for the kind of man they wanted to make out of me. As for teaching me to take a punch the hard way, I reckon there are other ways to do it…but that was Dad’s way, and it obviously got results. Y’all know what I did to that jerkoff Jacob Bernstein

So after about a month of working out with Dad in the garage almost every night – Dad said I was taking to it like a duck to water, which I guess my later history bears out – Dad said I was ready to confront Fred Taylor…as long as I promised to keep my guard up, since that was always a weak spot in my fighting technique. (El Tigre is still after me on that.)

I went to school that day pretty excited. I’d never told a kid to meet me around the corner after school before. Dad even coached me in that part, and it came out just right, even if I was nervous as heck that I’d mess up my lines and end up looking stupid in front of Fred Taylor.

The rest of the day all I could think of was getting back at that jerkoff. Gardner and Turner both knew what I was planning, and they came with me after school. They were worried about me, although I was feeling pretty confident, actually. If Dad said I could hit hard, I reckoned he was right.

So Fred Taylor showed up, saw that Gardner and Turner were there, and asked:

“So you brought your faggot friends to fight your battles?”

POW!

I didn’t knock him down with the first punch, but I did connect and I did double him over. I reckoned that was pretty good for one shot.

“I wasn’t ready!,” he said.

“Ok, get ready,” I said, my heart pounding but feeling that my chances were kinda good.

So he put ‘em up…and I nailed him in the face with a right that had everything I had behind it.

I never knocked anyone down before that…and, yeah, there was a big rush that came with it. It was also a little scary. But then I saw that that dumbass Fred was bleeding from the nose, which was exactly what I wanted to do to him.

“Remember that, next time you call someone a coward,” I said as I walked away before he could get up.

Yeah, it felt dang good.

I couldn’t wait for Dad to get home that night so I could tell him all about it. And to thank him. Nobody ever even tried to bully me after that. Dad congratulated me for having put Fred Taylor in his place…and told me I’d probably done a public service by taking a bully down a few notches. I won’t say that Fred totally stopped being a jerkoff, but he certainly never tried anything with me or any of my friends after that.

Since we had the boxing gear in the garage, Dad and me continued to work out together. Come summer, he’d move the bag into the backyard and Gardner would come over and use the equipment too. (Gardner was always a little bigger than me and his dad made sure he could take care of himself too. We had one real fight when we were in the 11th grade one day when we got super pissed off at each other. It started out as an MMA battle to the death and ended up in a very messy draw, with the two of us bloodied, dirty and in ripped clothes. I called Gardner last night, and he remembered the fight almost punch for punch the way I do…but neither of us could remember what it was about.)

Over the years, Dad gave me a series of rules to fight by. It’s not like he typed them out and emailed them to me like they were a memo at work or something. Some of them he started teaching me when I was 11, and some came later on. I can’t say I always followed Dad’s rules, but, when I didn’t, I usually ended up wishing I had.

  1. learn how to size up an opponent, never fight a smaller dude…and fight bigger dudes at your own risk;
  2. when a man is down, he’s down…you can dare him to get up again, but you can’t hit him again until he does;
  3. you’re never going to get in trouble with me for getting into a fight because you’re standing up for yourself, your family or your friends…it’s a man’s job to defend them;
  4. sometimes it’s ok to throw the first punch, especially if a man calls you something really bad, like ‘coward’, ‘faggot’ or, maybe worst of all, ‘liar’;
  5. if you’re going to hit someone drunker than you are, don’t hit him with all you got;
  6. if you kick someone’s ass, win like a man…offer to help the other dude up and offer to shake his hand (he may be an asshole and not take your hand but you’ve gotta try);
  7. if you get your ass kicked (and Dad definitely said ‘ass’ and not ‘butt’ in this context), lose like a man, and never refuse to shake the other dude’s hand;
  8. take a deep breath before you throw the first punch…you’ll hit harder and you might realize you don’t need to get into a fight in the first place;
  9. a punch in the face is worth two in the gut; and
  10. never get into a fight you know you’re going to lose…that’s just plain ole dumb.

They’re good rules. Every dude should follow them. My Dad’s one awesome dad, and I can honestly say he never steered me wrong.

I know you already got your card and your Gator Grip (I saw a YouTube commercial for it and knew I had to get it for you…I just hope it works as well as it does in the commercial lol)…but I hope you like this year’s Fathers Day post as well. Happy Dads Day, Dad.

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