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.
Becca Masters says:
I’ve never seen my dad be violent. He’s had a few “choice” words but never been violent.
My husband is the same, never ever raised a hand.
I just can’t imagine being those kids. Poor things.
Violence is never the answer, even if you really really want to clock someone with a frying pan.
I like that you’re talking about this, Mike, thank you so much. My father was occasionally violent – so not a lot of violence, but the threat of violence was a constant in our lives. My brother was terrified of him. Not what you hope for in a father. We have both been shaped very much by wanting to be ‘not what our parent were’. I would not accept violence in my life, and when I see it, or the threat of it, in public, it reminds me that some people out there are living very different lives to what I live, inhabiting such totally different head spaces that it must be like living in a different world to the one I’m in. And it’s always going to be the kids who suffer the most. Thanks again, it’s good that this is being discussed.
My parents have been married 41 years and to this day, I have never seen them fight. We knew when they were angry with eachother and we’d joke that Dad was in big trouble but they never had it out in front of us.
I agree with you Mike. I have a 14-month old son and he’s watching us. For example, I love football and my Houston Texans fans are acting like jerks and it has me weary of ever taking him to a football game, to see a sport I love, simply because I don’t want him to see the ugly side of sports, or anything, so close.
Oh man, I hear you. I live in houston and I’m getting so sick of some of the behavior I’ve seen surrounding the Texans and their performance. What is it about sports that brings out the worst in people? It’s supposed to be fun. I wish they could understand that you’re not always going to win, but some loyalty to your team and the players would be nice!
It’s awful and embarrassing. Positive reinforcement!
I’m also a Niners fan and I stuck with them through all those “rebuilding” years and bam, they went to the Super Bowl last year.
These fans are taking away so much from the game.
Too funny, my husband is a huge Niners fan and dealt with all those years of being awful, but you’re right — look what happened after the bad years! I just hate seeing kids at games witnessing bad behavior from adults. It should be fun for everyone, but when people get too into it and start cursing and arguing, they just ruin it and scare the kids.
At this point, I’m prepared to never take him to a game. Remember last year when a huge fight broke out between Cowboys fans and Texans fans? I’m all for ribbing the opposing team but unless you are a huge gambler then the outcome of a football game has no bearing on your life. It’s just a game; it’s supposed to be fun and now it’s not.
Damita H says:
Hello from a fellow Houstonian!!
Roll call, Houston!
The people you describe really don’t earn the right to be parents. First of all, having lived in California for most of my life (I don’t live there now), I can tell you that I wouldn’t go to Candlestick Park with a boom box or anything to annoy anyone with my kid in tow. I’m not blaming the victim, I’m just saying one should be proactive. You have to think when you have a kid with you, and thinking about how to avoid altercations is important, especially in an area like that. With respect to the guy who slugged the boom-box-brandisher in front of BOTH their kids, he should be locked up for a good amount of time. What you described was horrifying. I can’t imagine how upset those kids were. Shattering. Being a parent means being the one in control, period. Anything less is not being a man, or woman for that matter.
Mike, I think walking away is the best thing you can do. I’ve never seen my dad argue with a stranger, and his patience with people who probably don’t deserve it is one of the things I admire most. It’s helped me to grow into a peaceful person who would rather work to fairly diffuse fights than escalate them.
My dad never threw a punch at anyone. I’ve seen him get angry though. The one time that sticks out in my head is when I was 12. My music teacher called me a dumb dago. At the time I didn’t know what it meant. I asked my dad when I got home from school. He just turned bright red, picked up the phone, called off of work for the next day. He drove me to school and walked into the front office and said he wanted to speak to the principal, and vice principal immediately. He had me tell the. What happened I did and they called the music teacher up to the office. I don’t know what happened in the 2 hours the 4 of them were in the office together but I got an apology from the teacher.
I agree, walking away may be hard but it is the best thing to do. My Dad got into a few verbal altercations when I was a kid… I remember once I guy flipped him off in traffic and he followed the guy until he stopped and yelled at him for doing that in front of his 8 year old daughter. Another time it started after he was verbally accosted by a bunch of men who felt he made a bad judgement call during one of my brother’s basketball games (he was a referee). I tended to be a little bit of a scared kid but I remember being so scared… and embarrassed… wishing he had just let it go. I’m 30 now and those moments are still burned in my memory like they were yesterday. Of course… I inherited a bit of my Dad’s confrontational nature and remember another time when I was about 10 and we both yelled at a tow truck driver who towed our car from a closed bar parking lot on Thanksgiving.
Just wanted to point out I see you on the front page of Yahoo right now
Mike you are right always walk away. When I was six with my father and uncle they took my cousins and I to a park and two men walked past and yelled racial slurs at us. Instead of fighting,they immediately grabbed us and left. Fighting in front of small children unless it is a direct threat should be avoided. Talking to my dad about it twenty years later he says in his eyes the manly thing to do is not to brawl in front of children, situations can escalate and you don’t know how it could turn out. People have lost their lives or been horribly injured for less.
Kay, how horrible that someone would hurl racial epithets at you. I can’t imagine how much courage it took for your father and uncle to pull you away instead of beating the crap out of those two. I cringed when I read this-so sorry this happened to you.