At the supermarket the other day I saw a couple of men with their children having a screaming match in the parking lot. A lot of people were gathered around, watching, and for a while it looked as though the fathers might come to blows. In the end they both walked away, but it made me realize that at some point just about every father gets into a situation like that with his family, and when he does he’ll have two choices: he can walk away and perhaps look less macho than the other man, or he can throw a punch in front of his children. What a man decides in that moment says a lot about who he is.
I’ve observed a lot of these situations over the years, but one sticks out more than the rest. It was at Candlestick Park after a San Francisco Giants’ game, and everyone was filing out of the stadium toward the parking lot. On my left was a man who had a boom box on his shoulder (yes, a boom box… does that date this story or what?), and he was blasting the post-game show. He was with his son who was around ten, and the pair were very happy about the Giants’ win. On my other side was a man with a young daughter, and for whatever reason he was very annoyed about the volume of the other man’s radio (it was loud, for what it’s worth).
The two fathers soon began shouting at each other, and I’ll never forget what happened next – the guy with the daughter took a running start and clobbered the guy with the radio. I can still see the father with radio collapsing, his radio shattering against the ground, and the batteries rolling away down the hill. Perhaps because I was a kid myself I immediately looked to the children of these two men, and I really couldn’t tell you who was crying harder, the daughter of the aggressor or the son of the man on the ground. What I do know is that both kids looked incredibly shaken by the incident.
My own father got into a couple verbal altercations like this when I was growing up, but he always walked away without fighting. That may have made him look like less of a “man” to the other guy, but he didn’t let that sway him. I should mention that my father is no wimp: he’s 6’2, grew up in the Bronx, and was an officer in the Navy for five years. Still, he didn’t take the bait and instead lead his family away.
Different men will have different opinions on how to handle these situations, but for me personally I am going to always walk away unless someone is directly threatening my family. I don’t ever want to ever see Annabel and James crying the way those kids were that night at Candlestick Park all those years ago.
Most importantly, though, I don’t want to send the message that I condone violence when it’s not the last resort. Annie is watching everything I do, and if she sees me be violent she may think that’s just how every man is, and I don’t want her to ever think that. Similarly, I want James to understand that there is almost always a better solution than violence. Sometimes what we choose not to do has as much influence on our children’s future as what we choose to do.