THE BLOG
11/25/2014 07:18 am ET Updated Jan 24, 2015

A Thanksgiving Tale, Served With Punch

It all began when this nasty kid was picking on me in electric shop class, shoving me from behind and laughing when I didn't fight back.

I didn't fight back because the teachers at Junior High School 67 in Little Neck, New York warned us that anyone caught fighting would get demerits, which would go on your - drum roll, please.... permanent record.

Ooooh! That had a scary ring to it - "permanent record" - and you didn't want any dark marks on such a sacred thing, if you ever hoped to land a good job, get married, have a family....

Hey, you pretty much believe everything they tell you when you're twelve years old.

So I ignored the shoving until the next shop class, when the nasty kid - a skinny, blond-haired, slit-eyed punk - shoved me again, then punched me in the stomach.

He was sneaky, doing it when the shop teacher, Mr. Hertzberg, wasn't watching.

"Why don't you fight back?" the kid asked through clenched teeth.

"I don't want any demerits," I replied, clutching my guts.

He pushed me aside and walked away laughing.

That night I told my parents what was going on. My mother was upset and wanted to call the school. My father told her not to do that. Then he pushed all the furniture to the walls and stood in the middle of the living room in his stocking feet.

"Let me show you how to box," he said. Strange words, coming from the least violent man I've ever known.

He struck a classic pose - left fist forward, right fist near his chest. I struck the same pose and the two of us faced off, shuffling around in our socks. It was more Fred and Ginger than Frazier and Ali, but still my mother was worried.

"Don't hurt him!" she said. I think she was speaking to both of us, although at this rate the only damage we were doing was to the bottoms of our socks.

My father showed me how to throw a combination, his fists stopping inches from my face. Then he showed me again, in slow motion.

"Be quick," he said. "If you have to hit him, don't say, 'Here it comes!' "

I had to laugh. "Why would I say, 'Here it comes?' "

"What I mean is, don't warn him that the punch is coming."

"What about demerits, and my permanent record?"

He waved away my worries. "Don't worry about that. Just defend yourself."

That was what liberated me - my old man, telling me not to worry. Demerits, permanent records.... maybe the whole thing was just a racket to scare students into behaving well and make life easier for the teachers.

And I was hearing about it from my own father, so it was information I could trust. Screw the system, and put up your dukes!

At my next shop class I was ready. I was actually hoping the nasty kid would shove me from behind. Sure enough, he did.

I turned and shoved him back.

"Oh, he's ready to fight!" he jeered, but his face went red and I could tell he was startled.

I struck the fighting pose my father taught me, not even bothering to check if Mr. Hertzberg was watching. At this point I wouldn't have cared if the school principal, Mr. Zeitlein, was sitting at ringside.

"Let's go," I said.

Those narrow eyes widened. "Ain't you worried about demerits?" he asked.

"No," I replied, even though my clenched fists were trembling. "If you want to fight, I'm ready."

He swallowed. His shoulders sagged. He was just a bully, after all.

"Ahh, forget it," he said, and he slinked away.

This all happened 47 years ago and I think about it every Thanksgiving, eternally thankful to my father for that funky boxing lesson.

Because the enduring lesson came not from Dad's fists, but from his words: Don't worry about that. Just defend yourself. Good to learn there was a rebel heart beating behind his white shirt and tie.

So that's my big fight story. On my private scorecard I penalized the nasty kid ten demerits for walking away.

Sometimes I wonder whatever happened to him. I figure he's got a lousy job, a nagging wife and ungrateful, disrespectful children. (I can dream, can't I?)

And to this day, I'm sort of sorry the fight never happened. Would have been a sweet victory on my permanent record.

Charlie Carillo is a novelist and a producer for the TV show "Inside Edition." His website is www.charliecarillo.com