Opinion | Biff America: Chip off the old block | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Biff America: Chip off the old block

My opinions on parenting are not corrupted by my having any actual experience.

But an observation I would make is that there are a lot more rules now for those having kids than there were when I was a child — and for good reasons. Science and medical research and best practices have alerted us to, among other issues, the risks of head injuries, slingshot battles, diet and overly processed food. After a hearty breakfast of sugar-frosted flakes, I was sent off to bicycle to school though traffic without a helmet, but with a lunch of a baloney sandwich and a Hershey bar. This was in preparation for my pals and I shooting stones at each other after school.

“If you’re not having a good time, it’s you own damn fault.”

That was one of my dad’s favorite expressions. In retrospect it seems a little contradictory since he was usually in a bad mood. Three things that did give him pleasure were working, sipping whiskey and shocking friends and family.

He called the forced family labor around our home as “fun days.” Fun days were reserved for the weekends when my five siblings and I, most of whom would rather be having their eyes gouged out, would toil around our house.

Being the youngest, I was insulated. Any time I could hang out with my older siblings without getting teased or ignored was a bonus. We’d rake, mow, shovel or paint. The old man would oversee our efforts while making pilgrimages back to the liquor cabinet, improving his mood. My siblings would scatter upon completion, leaving my dad and I to contemplate the fruits of our labor.

It was after such a day of drudgery that he looked at me with mischievous eyes and said, “Let’s take Mike’s motorcycle for a ride.” My brother Michael made the mistake of leaving his motorbike behind when joining the Army. I’d pull off the tarp and straddle it when no one was around, never dreaming I’d get a ride on it until he returned.

Between the two of us, we were able to figure out the rudiments of starting, steering and shifting. We were at a disadvantage with one of us not yet 11, the other slightly buzzed and neither possessed a motorcycle license. We were ready to hit the open road after a few trial runs around our yard. But first, we had to get past my mother.

“You damn fool,” yelled my mum. “If you want to kill yourself, at least leave your son at home.” 

“I can’t,” my dad said. “He knows how to shift.”

Our first stop, only a half-mile away, was his sister’s house. We taxied slowly onto the front lawn and then tipped over gently on the freshly mowed grass. My aunt Marie was no less concerned then my mother was. “Why don’t you let me drive you home Harold? You’re going to break your foolish neck.”

Undaunted, my old man answered something to the effect, “No thank you. You’re dangerous behind the wheel, especially when you’re drunk.” My aunt was a devout Catholic and a nondrinker. My father enjoyed shocking the relatives as much as the wind in his hair.

Our entire tour was only a few miles, but for me a huge adventure. We made a few stops for beer and Coca-Cola at the homes of friends and family, and much to my dad’s delight, everyone told us we were crazy.

We had managed to keep the rubber side down by the time we turned the corner with our house in sight — other than the mishap on my Aunt’s lawn. He pulled over at the end of our driveway and said, ‘Let’s scare your mother.’

We switched places so I was in front and he was on the back. He worked the throttle, but let me help steer as I leaned on the horn. We drove into the yard and made a few victory laps around the driveway. My mum came running out of the house. She blessed herself and said, “Thank God you’re back. Are you trying to kill me with worry?”

My excitement was almost flammable.

Suffice to say, accepted childrearing has changed since my mum and dad brought me home in their covered wagon. Parenting in the old days was more a combination of tough love and social Darwinism. What was accepted then wouldn’t fly now. But then again, you have an entire generation that was raised in that old-school upbringing that have turned out great. Take me for instance, oh wait, never mind. 

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