There are many things that I admire about my dad, some of which I listed last year in honor of his birthday last year. But one characteristic that I did not bring up is dad’s level-headedness and restraint, especially when dealing with a stubborn kid with a penchant for thinking he was smarter than he was.
One day, when I was maybe about 12 years old, I thought that I was smart and strong. With such an idiotic combination, I somehow came upon the genius idea that I could hit my dad harder than he could hit me. Not only that, but I decided to act upon this hair-brained idea by actually challenging my dad to a contest. We would each hit each other once, as hard as we could. I would go first.
In retrospect, there are so many things wrong with this premise I almost don’t know where to begin. The first thing is that my dad was, and still is, pretty strong. I wouldn’t say that dad is a gym rat and while we at one point had some free weights in our basement, it’s not like he was Charles Atlas. He would be what I would call “naturally strong”. He has big hands and a very firm handshake. In fact, to this I have been wondering if I still have some level of puberty to go through, because my grip and hand size in no way compares favorably to him.
In addition, I am not sure what the goal of this challenge was. What exactly was the upside? If I was the winner, it would mean that I injured my own father to some degree. Plus, I am not sure how I could have actually thought that I would be able to affect my father enough that he would be unable to return the favor. Even thinking about it right now, I have no idea what I was going through my head. Maybe I thought I would impress my dad enough with my burgeoning strength that he would just give up his shot at me.
So the moment of truth came. We faced each other while I gathered up all of my strength and wherewithal. We had decided that we would punch each other in the arm, so my dad turned to the side and I rated back and let loose the best that I had. The result was markedly less than I could have hoped for. You probably could have gotten a similar experience watching a child harmless punch a wall. For the moment, I sat there dumbfounded. How could all of this have led to nothing. But before I could further assess what happen, I quickly came to a sobering realization, it was now my turn to be on the receiving end. So, I did what any other self-respecting pre-teen would do…. I ran.
I remember running for the coat closet near the front door. Once again, I had no plan outside of fleeing as fast as possible. I figured that somehow amongst the coats, maybe that would soften the imminent painful blow that I had brought upon myself.
As the closet door opened, there stood my dad. He was neither angry nor happy. He was just there, with a slightly bemused look in his eye. We looked at each other silently, each knowing what the other was thinking. And with no words exchanged, I was released from my recompense.
There are so many things that I appreciate and admire about my dad. Probably the biggest thing is that he could always find a way to teach me a lesson without just giving me the answer. Invariably he would give me just enough rope so that I could feel like I was learning out on my own but not enough that I would strangle myself with the slack, just get tangled up. The part that I appreciate the most is that not only would he let me get tangled, but he would also let me struggle a bit to get untangled. Combine this with his usual calm demeanor, and I am so much more of a level headed problem solver than I ever would have been without him.
We never talked about that day after that and to this moment, I am not sure why he ever got into this idiotic contest with me. He just as easily could have dismissed this idea and never stooped to my level. My dad is not a violent person, so there was a zero percent chance he ever would have completed the contest. In the end, I think he saw a teachable moment to make sure I remembered to stay humble, to really think through the consequences of my decisions and quite possibly to remind me of the folly of resorting to physical confrontation to solve problems. Despite always being one of the biggest guys in the room, I have never been in an actual fight before (if that makes me not a real man, then so be it.) And while it may be hard to wholly attribute this to that one day when I ran for the closet, I am certain that it at least played a part.
So happy birthday to my dad, a guy who is always teaching me life lessons. I hope that we have many more opportunities to stare each other down and try to outlast the other in tests of mental fortitude because I am pretty sure that my dad would still defeat me in a contest of who could punch the other the hardest.