Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Change is Gonna Do You Good

It was a thing of beauty! I side-stepped, spun him around, drove a hard left to the gut and finished up with a right cross to the chin. Craig was caught totally off guard, as was I. He stumbled backwards, stomping all over Grandma's bed of dainty daisies and hit the board fence hard. Craig was on the ropes! I felt strong and competent now and looked fiercely into his eyes. I saw surprise and wonder . . . and then something else. A look of anger and then resentment quickly replaced his previous expression. Then his eyes bored into mine. I recognized danger, and instantly reconsidered my aggressive stance. The chorus from Kenny Rogers song "The Gambler" best describes what coursed through my mind at that point, "You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, know when to run." I ran!

The reason I bring up this long past occurrence is a discussion I recently had with my wife concerning roughhousing. It all started when our son Spenser and I crossed paths in the hall and started punching each other in the arm and ended up on the floor wrestling, kicking and pinching. Laurie and her "Mini Me", our youngest daughter McKale, pitched a fit about it. Middle child, Alyssa, just sat there on the couch, taking the whole "Froo Ha Ha" in with a knowing smile of amusement. I tried to explain that this was simply our way of showing affection; male bonding through physical interaction as it where, a right of passage practiced by every species on the planet. Grizzlies, wolves and bears all prepare their young to face the unforgiving world by teaching them to fight and win. "If a kid can't take a lickin' and keep on tickin', he will surely fail", I said with conviction.

Seeing adamant disagreement and fire in Laurie's eyes, I quickly continued my dissertation. I explained that this was the way I was brought up; rock fights, cross country war games and tag team wrestling on our living room floor. It was not unusual for Craig, Steve and me, (and sometimes even Cindy), to show up in school with carpet burns on our foreheads and dislocated appendages protruding at odd angles. That's what I'm talking about! A kid knows he's loved when his family cares enough to prepare him to face the future. In my day, if a guy gave you a hug and a kiss you gave him a black eye and a busted lip. A noogie and a kick in the butt showed how much you cared on a much higher level than could ever be expressed by soft words and actions. I told my dear wife that the raising of male children was best left to real men. She had to only take a close look at me to see how positive and effective such an upbringing can be.

Laurie looked at me as if I were insane. As she thought about what I had said, her head started shaking side to side. She simply said "No!!!!" She mumbled something about me spending far too much time watching Animal Planet on the Discovery Channel. Laurie then waded in with her hands on her hips, backed up by McKale, and a condescending tone in her voice. She told me, in no uncertain terms, that the philosophy I had adopted was, in part, what had inspired such dysfunction in today's world. She said that aggression, hostility and the inability to get past the "Me Attitude" was causing our world to crumble and fall apart, and she was not going to allow it to show its ugly face in our home! Laurie and I stood nose to nose on opposite sides of a heated issue. I figured with the previous training I had received I could take her and her trusty sidekick.

A cough from Alyssa, and Spenser nervously shuffling his feet, caused me to re-access the situation. Maybe she was right, a healthy dose of tolerance, compassion and love couldn't really hurt. I reached out and grabbed my son in a rough bear hug, kissed him on the forehead and said " I love you boy!" Spenser was a bit taken aback by my abrupt change of attitude, and a little confused by it all. He slugged me solidly in the chest and said " I love you too Dad!" I realized a compromise had been reached, and that punch was going to produce a bruise, I was so proud.

The boxing incident I spoke of earlier occurred when Craig and I were young boys. Our family was living in Livermore, California with our mother's parents while our father added a few years of community college to his resume. The night before the altercation our family was watching the Saturday night fights on TV. Craig was simply showing me how the Cuban fighter had won the match by forcing his opponent on the ropes and aggressively pummeling his midsection. Early in the fight, the Cuban's outclassed American opponent came to life while being bombarded against the corner post. Our heroic countrymen took a shot to the stomach, side stepped, swung the Cuban to the corner and gave him a left upper cut and a right cross that briefly stunned the Cuban.

Within seconds, the Cuban regrouped and proceeded to beat the American senseless. I remembered the occurrence well, which is why I turned on my heel and exited, stage left. I made it to the large, heavy gate at the side of the house seconds before Craig. Luckily it stood partially open. As I sprinted through the opening I reached out and yanked it closed behind me. This slowed Craig only slightly, and angered him even more. I kicked it into high gear and beat a hasty retreat. Unfortunately my high end was equal only to Craig's second gear. He caught me within a hundred yards and proceeded to give me a lesson in why not to tick off a Cuban. Jim Croce said it best; "You don't tug on Superman's cape, you don't spit into the wind, you don't pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger and you don't mess around with Jim" or Craig or, well you get the picture. A valuable life lesson, best learned from a loving brother rather than from a less than compassionate stranger.

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

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