Biff America: Life lessons from my old man
“A coward dies a thousand deaths. A hero dies but one.”
That assertion was supposed to bring me comfort; it did not – dying once was bad enough. But my father wasn’t really talking about death, he was talking about fear that needed to be faced. His reasoning if you confronted fear head on, rather than avoiding the inevitable, the pain would be over quickly.
The first time I remember him saying that to me was when he learned I had spent a month running away from Roy Willis.
On Halloween night, I was trying to hit Joey Rizzo with an egg. Joey was my age and size; I was ready for any repercussions. Unfortunately, my aim was off, and I hit a much older and larger Roy Willis – right in the side of his head. When I saw the egg explode just above Roy’s ear, I knew I was in trouble. Fortunately, the impact stunned him, giving me time to get away.
The neighborhood was dark and crowded that night, allowing me to avoid Roy. But once the sun rose the next day, I began a month-long mission of running from Roy. I was in grammar school and Roy was in junior high, which made it easier. But he would occasionally show up at places he thought I might be, and when that happened, I would run.
My old man heard about that and was ticked off. I hoped he was going to take my side and talk to Roy’s parents or even tell my older brother to intercede on my behalf. Instead, he was angry that I had been running away. When I told him of Roy’s age and size he was not dissuaded.
“A coward dies a thousand deaths. A hero dies but one,” he said. “You can’t run forever.” When I told him Roy would most certainly beat me up he said, “Make sure you wear your old cloths.”
So I waited for Roy between the bus stop and his house, wearing the suggested old clothing. When he showed up, he slapped me around a little, and after that I was able to hang around the neighborhood without worry.
As a matter of course, I try to deal with unpleasant situations rather than avoiding them. It’s like tearing off a bandage: The faster you pull, the less it hurts.
“If you are not having a good time, it’s your own damn fault.”
My Dad offered that sage observation when I was complaining about having to attend a cook-out in celebration of my great aunt’s 80th birthday party. I was about 14 at the time. Again I thought he was off base. How can a teenager have fun at a birthday party for an 80-year-old? Then I noticed that my cousin Mary, who was my age, brought her best friend to the party – and a Twister game.
Over the years, I have learned happiness and contentment is more a product of attitude than circumstance.
“Will the joy you get out of those 20-dollar shoes be worth the five hours it took you to make that 20 dollars?”
Whenever I wanted to buy something, my old man would ask the question of how the pleasure of my purchase would compare to the labor was required to make that purchase. If I could say I’d get as much joy as money spent, he was OK with it. He also would ask: “Do you need them or want them?”
I would contend today that I am smart with money, although my wife might call it cheap.
“Don’t worry so much about the big kids. Keep your eye on the kid who is the smallest except for you. He is the one who will take you out if he gets a chance.”
When I was old enough to start playing tackle football (without pads) with the bigger kids, my old man gave that advice. My father’s reasoning was that the kid I replaced as the smallest on the field would welcome someone smaller to hit, and he was correct.
“If you get into it with a red head, swing first and aim for the nose. If you don’t, he will.” (My Dad over the years would say that about every hair color and ethnicity.) I did not follow his advice – Ray Kelly did, in fact, swing first.
I knew my old man loved me, even though I can’t remember him telling me so. And other than his suggestion that I remain in Massachusetts loading trucks rather than move to Colorado, much of his advice I follow to this day.
He also said: “Seeing my youngest child grown up to be a Democrat makes me wish birth control was retroactive.”
To all dads, past and present, happy Father’s Day. Much of who we are we owe to you.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on RSN TV and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at email@example.com. Biff’s book “Steep, Deep and Dyslexic” is available from local book stores or from http://www.webersbooks.com
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