When I was somewhere between the ages of 4 and 8 (old enough to remember the story and not so old that it really traumatized me the way it may have if I’d been in junior high), my family was eating lunch at a Taco Bell near our home in southern California. I can picture the hard plastic booth just on the other side of the tacky, southwestern-colored solid striped wall containing the fake green plants separating the ordering counter from the dining area. Behind my seat in the booth was a row of tables with three older boys. At least junior high age if not older. Some of the details are a bit fuzzy, but I remember that the boys behind me were making fun of my ears. (To be fair, my ears do stick out a bit more than some.) They called me “Dumbo” of course referring to the Disney elephant whose ears are so large he can fly. They then left the restaurant and headed outside to their BMX bikes in the parking lot.
My dad then proceeded to head out to the parking lot and give a harsh earful to the boys. It’s one of the few distinct times in my life I can remember someone sticking up for me so directly and boldly. I’m sure at the time it wasn’t a big deal to me. I probably just ate my Fiesta Bean and Cheese Burrito (remember those snack-size items that were 39 cents? Ahh, the good old days) and thought nothing of it the rest of the day. Looking back, though, I have a different perspective. When I think about what it takes to be a father, I often think of my own dad. I sometimes find myself tearing up when I watch a movie about the relationship between a father and son. Field of Dreams…Rudy…The Lion King…Indiana Jones…You know the movies. And when I’ve thought back to that day at Taco Bell I sometimes would think that it was my dad’s toughness that was memorable. In my young mind my father was taking on three bullies that were much bigger than me. I would have been terrified of them, but he stood strong and tall and told them not to mess with his son. A real tough guy in the mind of his little boy.
But as I look back on it now I have a different kind of fondness for the memory and for my dad. Sure, he put himself in harm’s way to a degree in the parking lot (again, I can’t be sure how old/big the guys were), but there’s more to it than that. What really means the most to me now is that I was special to him. He cared enough about me (and innocent, helpless boys other than his own) to teach the bullies a lesson. I love that my dad thinks I am special. I have yet to discover for myself many of the things that he already sees in me. I guess I’ve always been his “wild thing,” a boy with no limits, a good man. While I strive in different ways to be all of these things, I think back on the ways he has inspired me with his actions, with his conspicuous love for his son that never fails, even when I do.
To my dad, thanks for being an example of what a real man can be: loving, with actions evolving from affection, through service and protection.
To you, thanks for reading. Share this with your friends or ponder it alone. Either way, I’ve enjoyed sharing this small bit of my life and my vision for what a man can be. Join me for future posts exploring the modern man, and the myths that mold us.