Trouble in Paradise
One evening, when my wife was working late, the kids and I made this trip without her. Sally, age 4, rode in the wagon with 7-year-old Marie pulling. Baby Wendy was in a papoose rack on my back.
Coming home on the trail, as we approached a backyard picnic, four burly guys stomped onto the trail ahead of us and started fighting. One pair locked into a bear hug right away and lurched off the trail, crashing through the undergrowth down the wooded slope toward the river. The other two traded a few punches and then wrestled each other to the ground, where Lug No. 1 put Lug No. 2 into a wrestling hold called “the cradle.” It gave him such excellent control he could free up a hand to punch his captive’s head every little while. Sally and I were shocked but interested. Marie, the oldest, was frightened and shrank back against me. With the contest on the trail stabilized into a deadlock, I put Marie into the wagon with Sally and we hurried past as No. 1 punched the head of No. 2 and asked him: “Want some more?” No. 2 denied him the satisfaction of an answer. From down near the river, came grunts and wild rustlings, but thick foliage obscured the view.
Despite my righteous disdain for their violence, I couldn’t help feeling kind of unmanly guiding my little Girl Scout troop past these panting bulls in their ferocious impasse. (Like most men, I have a feeling that I could do well in a fight, but this isn’t based on anything real.) Looking back the way we’d come, I saw that more picnickers had clambered up onto the trail and surrounded Nos. 1 and 2. A couple of women were screeching at them to stop. “Why are they fighting?” Sally wanted to know. “I don’t know why exactly. But remember the scene in ‘Bambi’ when the two man deers are fighting each other with their antlers? It’s something like that,” I explained. “Young guy-animals like to fight.” Then, afraid I’d made a beery slugfest sound like a wholesome celebration of vitality, I mentioned that when grown men fight, they can do permanent damage and even kill each other, so smart and nice men don’t do it.
Marie asked, “Will they do that tomorrow?”
“They might,” I said, “But probably not. Maybe this fight will settle whatever they are upset about. Maybe they’ll never fight each other again, but they may get into more fights, because they probably aren’t very good at talking things out.” Not wanting her to think that such brawling is commonplace or to fear that her own dad might suddenly trade blows with the mailman, I noted, “I haven’t had a fight since I was in high school.”
“Who did you fight?” Marie asked, as I pulled the wagon through the gloom.
“My pal Doug – you know, Dylan’s dad,” I said. “I was annoying him and his girlfriend, and he got mad and jumped on me and punched my head, and I bit him on the wrist and threw him on the ground. It wasn’t as big as the fight we just saw.”
“I like those girls who were trying to stop it,” Marie said.
“Well,” I said, “There’s a good chance that those girls are what those guys were fighting over. A lot of times that kind of fight is about whose girlfriend is whose. When you get older, your best bet would be to not hang around with guys who fight.”
“That’s OK,” she said. “I don’t like boys that much – except Cousin Dave.”
Sally wasn’t saying much, but she was listening attentively. When we got home, she jumped out of the wagon and ran to tell her neighborhood pals about the fighting guys. That night, when I put her to bed, Sally brandished her little fists and asked me playfully, “Wanna fight?” She was funny, so I laughed.
And Marie, opting for a chat instead of her usual bedtime story, said that when the men were fighting, “It made me wish I was at home, with my bear, in bed.” She was upset, so I hugged her.
The world can be an unwholesome place, and a few guys thumping each other after a few beers are the least of it. I’d prefer to shelter the kids from this kind of thing, but it does provide an opportunity for discussion. Rick Epstein can be gotten to at email@example.com