The year I peaked as a manly man

His name was Richard. I don’t remember him being around during Kindergarten, and I know he was gone by junior high. I don’t know where he came from or where he went. He rode my bus in third grade and we threw down every morning.

I recall as little about why we fought as I do about why he came and went so quickly. He showed up out of nowhere and wanted to fight, like those guys wearing suits and sunglasses in The Matrix. In third grade, I was not one to back down from a fight. That’s funny to me now, but it’s true.

matrix agent

Time has treated you well, Richard. You haven’t lost a step. (Warner Bros.)

By third grade, every inch of my body had been kicked many times over by dairy cows and I’d been cuffed plenty by older siblings. Taking on humans of my own size and weight was almost a vacation.

I was a scrapper, and so was Richard. Maybe I called him Dick; more likely we just didn’t like the cut of each other’s jib. Whatever the reason, we got to the back of the bus and went at it. It was mostly wrestling; third grade is early for fist fights. We’d tussle for a while, then the bus would pull up at school and it would be over. I went into school as if the fight had been a part of my morning routine no more noteworthy than brushing my teeth.

Next day, we’d be right back at it.

old bus

Of course, those were the days before cameras in the back of the bus. You could settle your differences without going viral.

One morning Richard banged my head against the metal wall of the bus. Richard and I had pushed each other’s skulls into this metal many times, but this time my scalp caught a protruding rivet. Blood trickled down my face.

I was taken to the school nurse and there was talk of stitches. I was reconciled to being kicked by cows and having my head banged into the wall during a fight, but I truly feared doctors. I had tried to fight doctors once when they wanted to draw blood. It was no use fighting a doctor; they’d just call in more and more of their friends to hold you down until they could stick you with a needle.

he'll cure you if it kills you

This is still what it looks like when I go for a physical examination.

I didn’t get stitches, but the damage was done. I lost interest in my daily bouts with Richard. It wasn’t worth facing a needle.

Gradually, I lost interest in fighting altogether. I lost daily contact with cows. I grew soft, to the point where I can no longer imagine what I would do in a fight. Besides run away, that is. Probably I would cycle my fists in the air and puff out my chest, hoping to bluff my way through, a la Fred Sanford. Let’s hope it never comes to that.

Now I have three boys. I want them to be tough, but I don’t need them to be scrappers. I want them to be mentally tough – able to stand up to adversity and handle disappointment.

They should walk away from their Richards. The world has tilted away from scrappers now that differences between children are resolved administratively.

The world has become much more enlightened since my boyhood – everybody except the dairy cows.

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23 comments on “The year I peaked as a manly man

  1. Lynn says:

    Our son was never a scrapper. His nemesis pestered him day in, day out. We would hear stories about this boy every single night at our dinner table, what he did to so & so that day.

    My husband & would disagree on the proper course of action. My solution was to walk away, my husbands was just give it to him. (his philosophy was that once he did that, he would not longer be bothered by this boy)

    Our son continued to heed his mother’s advice. Until grade 3. As the story goes, our son had had a particularly crappy day that day, followed by his nemesis chirping in his ear all the way home on the bus. It was winter & my husband had gone to pick the kids up that day off of the bus.

    He recalls seeing our son stepping off the bus, following right behind him was the said pain in the ass. Still chirping!

    As they stepped off of the bus, our son turned around without saying a word, grabbed hold of the other boy’s collar & shoved his head into a snowbank.

    When I asked my husband what he did when he witnessed this, he responded, “that kid had it coming, I turned my head & looked the other way”

    He never bothered our son again!

  2. Good post! It’s definitely different these days. I remember fights breaking out in the hallways at middle and high school. You’d just be walking to class and suddenly there was an MMA match right in front of you and some poor teacher would usually have to jump in the middle of it. That would never happen these days at least not in my school district, maybe its different in other places. Kids would get all kinds of discipline thrown at them if they went at it at school or on a bus. I guess that’s good! I asked my kids the other day if they ever see fights at school. Neither had. Says something positive about our culture. I was never a fighter, learned early to walk (or run) away!

    • Something’s lost and something’s gained in all change. I don’t want my kids getting into fights, but I don’t want them running to grown ups to resolve every little conflict. Hopefully, they can find a middle ground.

  3. We used to meet at the town’s McDonald’s on Fridays to fight, so if you had a beef with somebody on a Monday, you’d sometimes lose interest in it by Friday, but you had to show up or you were ridiculed unmercifully. Rivets are tough to tangle with for sure, as are dairy cows, apparently. Are those not the same cows that people tip at night?

    • Some cows are very pleasant creatures and some are not. We had both varieties. I don’t know anything about tipping cows. I guess that’s a sport for suburban kids or something. There are a ton of reasons why farm kids would never do it. Rivets, on the other hand, are all tough customers.

  4. I spent a few years growing up in Montana where fighting was something that just happened. Maybe it was a way to keep our hands warm, but once we moved to California my fighting days were over and I became a hippie. It’s funny how place dictates so much of who we become. Had we stayed in MT I’d probably be writing cowboy poems and punching doggies. Your three boys will have the advantage of fighting each other, lucky kids.

  5. pieterk515 says:

    I’ve never been in a fight when I was young and I was a real smart mouth, which technically should’ve gotten me into more than one fight. I think the fact that my older brother threatened every kid I knew with death if they would dare to touch me, might have resulted in my protection.

    Dude got in a fight last year after shooting off his mouth. I suppose things change. He doesn’t have an older brother. But the best thing is that those two are now great friends. Crisis averted.

    Sometimes it takes a knock to align you again.

  6. Angie Mc says:

    My 9 year old son just asked me this past week if I had ever been in a fight. I needed to admit that, yes I was, and went on to share the surreal elementary and junior high stories with a mix of regret and how we need to defend ourselves. Eventually, I studied martial arts as did my oldest and the aforementioned son. My other two sons have mainly been scrappy on the baseball field, which is no walk through the daisies.

    Having been raised on the wrong side of the tracks, I like that our families have scrappy tools to work with, but we don’t need to live there. Most likely, my kids will get the person intent on a fight to laugh by doing a Fred Sanford impersonation, rather that throwing a punch 😀

    • They probably should use humor, or whatever else they can make work for them, to avoid scrapping. We used to be able to get away with a discreet fight now and then, but times have changed. Now, fighting is a no-win proposition. It’s for the best if they can talk their way out of it.

      • Angie Mc says:

        Exactly. Our children need to have many social tools to manage well in our fast-paced culture with constantly changing expectations. Such finesse is hard!

        While at college at the start of this semester, my oldest son, a transfer, was assigned a known tough-guy as his roommate. My son used several tools to get along up front, with no luck. After a few days of rooming together, my son finally said, “Do you want to go at it right now and get this over with? I’m ready.” And guess what, the kid laughed!

        They are fine now and since both of these young men are over 6′ and 200 lbs, I’m glad they found a way to get over themselves without getting into it physically 😀

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