Every man has the right to risk his own life in order to save it.
Jean Jacques Rousseau
I’ll be the first to admit, I wasn’t an easy kid to deal with. I still remember the trouble I got in when I got home after my first school fight. My mother was furious. Her disappointed glare will forever be etched in my memory as she repeated over and over phrases like “Violence is never the answer” or “I raised you better than that,” and “Wait till your father comes home.” She didn’t take into account the fact that this was an older kid who constantly bullied me and my friends or the fact that I had already told a teacher about it. Keep in mind this was a long time ago, long before the whole anti-bully school programs and long before the “everyone’s a winner” mentality that is so common now days. Back then, “boys will be boys” was the norm for issues like these. That fateful day, the kid picked on the smallest one of my friends and I just reacted. All my mother could see was the black eye, the swollen lip, the ripped shirt, and my tainted school record.
As I waited in my room, grounded for life, I ran all the possible scenarios in my head of what would happen when my father got home. Just so you know, waiting for a punishment is a lot more torturous than the actual punishment. My father walked in, curiously calm compared to my mother. He just looked at me and asked a simple question. “Who threw the last punch?” The last punch? I was expecting to be asked who started the fight, not who ended it. Fearfully I admitted it was me. He looked at me and smiled proudly and left.
“What the hell?”
I had not realized it then, but the day of that fight I learned one very important lesson. I had the power to stand up for myself and for those around me. Sure, it meant I got hit hard several times and was grounded, but I realized that not standing up for myself because I was afraid of getting hurt means you are already hurting yourself. Backing down out of fear no longer became an option in my life.
Some of the best lessons my father taught me were actually the ones where he let me get over my head and get hurt. He saw me get climb the tree from which I fell and needed stitches. He saw me make that jump on my bike from which I fell and broke my arm. He saw me go out with a girl for which I fell in love and ended up with a broken heart.
He also saw me stand up afterwards, dust myself off and try again later; sometimes by my own volition and other times thanks to his “motivation” pep talks. (read as him asking if I was “done feeling sorry for yourself?”)
Back then, I just thought my father would let me get away with almost anything. Now that I am older and a father myself, I look back and realize it wasn’t that simple. He always looked out for me without me knowing. He would “make” me compete without my noticing, thinking it was my own idea. From those contests I not only learned that wining was awesome, but I also learned the humility that comes of defeat and the importance of trying again after said defeat. He gave me enough space let me get into trouble, knowing that the only way to grow old and wise is if you are first young and stupid first. He would make me “pay-up” for whatever “stupidity” I did (and there was plenty of that in my youth), never bailing me out. You learn accountability really quickly that way.
I never knew back then all the magic he worked behind his calm façade. As a father myself, I can only now relate to the self-control needed to keep yourself from going to your kid’s rescue, giving them an easy way out. Every time you do that, the person learns there is no responsibility for their actions and someone else will always be there to solve their problems. As a husband, I can only imagine the countless arguments he must have endured dealing with my mother’s overprotective nature, as he fought to keep me from being mollycoddled into an entitled spoiled brat.
I learned more from falling and failing and getting hurt than I did from any of my successes, as I was given the opportunity to learn that failure wasn’t fatal but not learning from it was. They also taught me that a life of not doing anything for fear of getting hurt or losing isn’t really a life. It’s merely an empty existence of underachievement as you lack the 'cojones' to get your act together. Life will constantly challenge you, and you are meant to meet them head on with your head held high and your chest out. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose and sometimes you get hurt in the process of both. That’s life and if I want my kid to be strong enough to meet these challenges, I need to be strong enough to let him fall.