I was 8 years old when I came home crying one snowy March day. At that time, I walked to and from school everyday with the school patrol. Normally it was a fun walk home filled with laughter and the occasional snow angel. However, that day, Rusty Johnson (a sixth grader) decided it would be a good idea to push me down and white-wash me (for those unaware of this term, it means he balled up a bunch of snow in his GI Joe mittens and shoved it in my face). The snow stung my pale face and I think I went into temporary shock. Everyone laughed as I tried to get up and dig the snow out of my nostrils and ears. I remember being embarrassed, confused, and angry. All I wanted to do was go home and tell my dad. However, he worked until late in the evening so I had to wait. Luckily, I was a melodramatic girl and was still able to conjure up enough tears once he got home to relive my horrible walk home.
My dad has always been my hero. He was always strong and very protective. He definitely had his own parenting techniques and enjoyed keeping it what most would define as old skool – an eye for an eye-type of mentality. So when he saw his little pale-faced girl crying, he demanded to know who had hurt me. When I told him what had happened on the way home from school, I expected a hug or a you poor thing, but instead he told me to follow him down into our basement. Once we got down there he introduced me to his 4-foot tall, hanging punching bag. This was the same punching bag that I’d observed my dad punching many a night after work as he worked out. However, it was never one of his “toys” that I had ever considered playing with. It looked too boyish and I far preferred my Rainbow Brite doll or my Barbie Big Wheel. However, that night, I had no choice as my dad positioned my feet on the ground and helped me to form my tiny hands into fists.
To begin, my dad held up the palms of his two hands in front of his face and said – Hit me. Show me what you got! I rocketed my best girly punch in his direction, hitting his fingers instead of his palm. My dad then spent the next 2 hours training me on the proper mechanics of boxing. I was then strapped into an over-sized pair of boxing gloves and was instructed to throw jabs, left hooks, combinations and uppercuts at the punching bag.
After I was pink from exhaustion and still very confused as to how a white-wash from a red-headed sixth-grader could be vindicated by throwing punches at a bag, my dad began to explain. He sat me down on our couch and started to explain to me something he referred to as the birds and the bees. I liked stories about birds so I listened intently. However, he never got into any specifics about birds, or bees for that matter, but he did repeatedly tell me that babies came from married men and women. I had no clue how learning where babies came from would help me prevent or understand a random white-wash, but my dad had a master-plan.
My dad explained that sometimes boys pick on girls because they secretly like them. This seemed like the dumbest thing I had ever heard as I wondered, is this guy lying to me? He then showed me how to knock the wind out of a guy by counting down from the top three buttons on his shirt and then punching him there. It was a lot of information for my little brain to process, as he made me repeatedly count out-loud – one, two, three buttons down and then punch him. After a while, I got better, and was able to throw punches that made my dad say things like – That Rusty bastard isn’t going to know what hit him. But I told my dad that I didn’t want to fight, I just wanted to tap dance. He then reassured me by saying, I don’t want you to fight either, but you have to be able to defend yourself. He emphasized his most important point – You should never throw the first punch. I’m teaching you to defend yourself, but not to start fights. Later in life, I wondered what would have happened to the movie Fight Club had my dad written it – First rule about fight club, never throw the first punch. I don’t think it would have had such box office success since there would most likely have been no fighting at all.
My dad’s training became useful as I grew up in a neighborhood full of boys who seemed to enjoy picking on my younger brother and I. But these boys weren’t aware that my dad had me in full bully training mode. Throughout my childhood, my dad continued to coach me in boxing and strength training. He’d give me allowance not for doing chores, but for doing one-handed push-ups and demonstrating a perfect combination upon request.
Four years after the white-wash incident, my father experienced what he refers to as his proudest moment with me. While most parents are proudest when their kid graduates high school, college, makes the sports team or receives an academic award, my dad has always thought outside of the traditional parental box. His proudest moment occurred after he sent me out onto our East St. Paul, MN front yard to defend myself and my younger brother from a neighborhood bully.
At the time, my family lived next door to a family of boys who used to love bullying my younger brother and I. Our families were constantly feuding and our parents couldn’t stand each other. They were those neighbors that everyone in the neighborhood seemed to dislike. They were rude and always hosting large drunken parties, never mowed their lawn and let their kids run wild. One of the neighbor boys, Timmy was the same age as I was, 10 years old. While his older brother Dustin was 12 years old. Both Dustin and Timmy relentlessly tormented my brother and I. Earlier that week, Timmy had beat up my brother (who at the time was only 8 years old). Since Timmy was my age, my dad sent me out to defend my brother and that’s what I did. By the time our short fight had ended Timmy was crying and running to his side of our adjoining fence. I had hoped that this would be the last time we had to deal with the brothers, but I was wrong.
Timmy’s older brother Dustin had long bullied me and threatened to beat me up. One day on the way home from school, Dustin kicked me in the stomach and warned me that there would be more to come. I came home that night crying to my dad again who asked me why I didn’t defend myself. But I just didn’t want to have to fight. I was a nervous wreck as I told my dad, “But Dustin says he knows karate?!” My dad wasn’t impressed, “He doesn’t know any karate. He’s just trying to scare you and it’s working.” Later that week, Dustin appeared in our front yard looking for revenge for the fight I had earlier in the week with Timmy. But still, I didn’t want any part of that because despite my dad’s dismissal, Dustin’s supposed karate skills were really freaking me out. It didn’t seem like Dustin would ever leave me alone and my dad knew that as long as I continued to let Dustin kick me, threaten me and bully me, he wouldn’t stop. My dad then took action. He came into my heart-themed bedroom, turned off my cassette player (I was listening to Mariah Carey’s Vision of Love at the time), and pulled me away from my Barbie Ferrari. He told me that it was time for me to defend myself and end all of this bullying. I didn’t seem to have a choice in the matter as my dad pushed me out the front door, locked it and took a seat at a window so that he could watch what went down. When I got outside Dustin was still waiting on my front lawn. He looked mad as he walked towards me. Dustin’s dad Dan then came out of their house and yelled, kick her ass. Dustin then started hitting me in the head. He seemed determined to show his dad that he could beat up a younger girl (something I still don’t quite understand). I managed to break away, set me feet in the proper boxer stance and rocket a right hook toward his face that just brushed his chin. His eyes bugged out in surprise that this girl could actually throw a punch. He then tackled me to the ground. But unfortunately for him, I soon dominated the fight as I held him down with my knees and reluctantly continued to punch him and occasionally pull his hair (I mean hello, I was still a 10 year old girl). This continued until Dustin’s dad (uncomfortably watching his eldest son get beat up by a younger girl) yelled out – “Dustin, It’s time for dinner!” In the spirit of obedience and empathy, I then stopped punching Dustin, removed my knees from his chest and allowed him to stand up. Dustin, who appeared to be embarassed and crying, put his head down and ran towards his dad. It was at this time when my dad proudly openend our front door, walked outside, gave me a big hug and yelled across the fence – Hey Dan! What kind of wussies are you raising over there when my daughter can kick both your son’s asses!?!
That night I was the toast of my household as my dad relived every moment of his daughter’s victory over the two neighborhood bullies. I honestly don’t think I’ll ever be able to top that moment in my dad’s eyes. Thanks to my dad, I never received another white-wash and both of the neighborhood bullies stayed a healthy distance away from my brother and I.
(Just because our skin is as fair as snow that doesn’t mean we appreciate a face full of it!)