Dad was pretty much raised by his mother, Lillian Bähler, after his father passed away when he was four years old. Charlie Bähler had contracted Typhoid, while breaking up a moonshine ring down in Arkansas.
Dad said that despite their unexpected and devastating loss, his mom found her joie de vivre in her own outlook. Dad, as the full focus and recipient of that positivity was actually quite happy and fulfilled as a child. I, as a young boy, saw for myself the effect that Grandmother could have upon my own level of joy in an instant, simply by being in her presence.
As full as their life was, Grandmother knew that having a father figure for Dad would be important to his development, as well as beneficial. So, when Dad was nine, Grandmother accepted a proposal of marriage from a gentleman by the name of Vernon Hamilton. Grandmother told him that she wasn't in love with him, but felt he was a good man and would be a good example for her son. I love Vernon's response. "I will happily be here for Jack and you will learn to love me."
And she did. On a grand scale. Granddad was a gentle giant who worked for the railroad. I don't remember seeing him in anything other than overalls except on Sunday when he wore a suit to church.
Dad enjoyed having this venerable father figure in his life. He possessed a booming laugh and was right up there with Grandmother in terms of good humor.
As a young boy myself, Dad enjoyed sharing stories with me about Granddad. This was is favorite.
At ten years old, Dad was smaller than most of the other boys his age This was not a drawback as he possessed a healthy self esteem and was charming as well as good humored. And his smile? Well...it was mesmerizing. He was warmly welcomed by people from all walks of life, regardless of culture, age or social standing.
So Granddad was surprised when Dad came running into the house one day, heaving for air and exhausted, having run home from school. Sweat dripped from his brow as his chest rose and fell with each gasping breath.
Granddad asked, "Jack, are you alright? Why were you running?
Dad replied, "I was running from the boy who keeps hitting me at school."
"Did you play any part in this?"
"I didn't do anything to him. Honest. He just decided that he could hit me, maybe because I'm smaller that he is."
"So that's why you ran home."
"Yes, sir. He chased me home."
"Well, Jack, the boy you have described is what we call a bully."
"Yes, a bully. And let me tell you about bullies. I have noticed a certain characteristic in every bully that I have ever encountered."
"Their all cowards."
"What!?" How can he be a coward, he's the one hitting me!
"Yes, because he needs to hit you to convince himself and others that he is somebody. He has a low self-esteem. You have a high self-esteem.
Now, there are times to run and there are times to stand your ground. And standing your ground with a bully is something that I highly recommend."
"But he hits me."
"I understand. If you want him to stop, listen to, then follow what I am about to tell you."
The next time this boy confronts you, you stand your ground. Say to him, "I've done nothing to you. Don't hit me."
"That won't stop him, he'll just punch me."
"Okay, if he does, you hit him back, and quickly."
"But he's bigger than me!"
"If you follow what I am telling you, you will be pleasantly surprised."
The next day Dad ran in to the house again, winded and sweating.
Granddad was there to meet him. "Jack, I believe we talked about this yesterday. Did you do what I suggested?"
Dad shook his head no while looking down at his shoes, tears dripping from his eyes down onto his shoelaces.
"Look at me Jack. You say that this bully is bigger than you. Well, I am bigger than both of you put together. So, you have a choice. You can either stand up to him, or you'll have me to deal with."
The next day, Dad was running up the road again, being chased by the bully. When he approached the small hill upon which his home was situated, he saw his step-dad, Vernon Hamilton, standing in the big bay window, his legs set wide apart, his arms akimbo. Dad took one look at the bully, then looked back up at Granddad. Dad turned to the bully and said, "I've done nothing to you, don't hit me."
The bully scoffed and hit Dad. In a flash, Dad let him have it. The bully, his eyes full of shock and tears, turned and ran off, crying like the true coward he was.
Lesson in courage learned.
Now, I am the proud father of three. Two girls and a boy.
When my son, Quincy was about ten, He came home from school with a story similar to Dad's. A boy who had been a friend from pre-school on, had suddenly turned on him and was hitting him on a consistent basis. Quincy was troubled.
I must say, as sorry as I was to hear what this boy was doing to my son, this was also one of those moments that a father relishes. This was a golden opportunity to share an incident about our family that was going to have a direct and positive effect on my dad's grandson. I told Quincy his grandfather's story.
About three days later Quincy came home from school, standing tall and sporting a proud, confident countenance.
"What went on with you today? I said, joining in and sharing his broad smile. You look like the cat that swallowed the canary."
"I told Peter not to hit me, that I hadn't done anything to him."
"He hit me so I let him have it! He ran off crying just like the boy in Granddad's story."
Dad always said, "Never take the first swing. But if someone hits you without provocation, hit him back. A bully will shrink from someone who stands his ground."
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