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Red's Wisdom

     My father was a hard-drinking, hard-fighting badass Irishman from a long line of hard-drinking, hard-fighting badass Irishmen. His name was John, but his entire life, he was known to his friends as Red.
     The name Red commanded respect and fear in ALL the bars in Northern New Jersey throughout the last quarter of the last century. He truly was a legend.

     When kids on the playground started on the “my dad can beat up your dad” nonsense, I’d just smirk and walk away. They didn’t get. They couldn’t.

     You know those seedy dive bars you always see in movies? The ones that are so rough, they need to hire outlaw bikers to work as bouncers? I can tell you those bars actually do exist – and yes, they really are that rough. When those bikers were done knocking in the heads of the guys my friends’ fathers were afraid of, they needed a place to go drink and let off some steam. My old man worked the door at THAT bar!
     It was an unaffiliated biker bar – which meant guns and colors were forbidden inside. You had to keep your helmets, jackets and anything else with gang insignia outside the door, or my father wouldn’t let you in. The bar’s main regulars were from two of the most notorious outlaw biker gangs in Jersey: the Hells Angels and the Pagans. My old man’s job was to keep the peace between these sworn enemies when they were inside the bar – and he did exactly that.

     Having Red for a father had an interesting effect on me. I was a small, unbelievably scrawny boy. I didn’t break 100 pounds until I was 18 years old. My older brother taught me well that I could really take a beating, but I didn’t know how to give one. I couldn’t fight at all, yet I feared nobody.
     It was some strange sort of delusion. I didn’t size men up against me, I sized them up against Red – and nobody… NOBODY was tougher than Red!
     I was an arrogant, cocky punk throughout my teens and early twenties. If I met THAT me today, I’d hate the asshole! Sometimes, I’m honestly amazed I actually survived through my twenties.

     People often talk of all the important life lessons and great pearls of wisdom they received from their fathers. OTHER people do. I can recall only one piece of wisdom I ever got from my father – but that one bit of insight changed my life. It made a man of me.

     I started going to bars with my old man when I was a teenager, and that lasted pretty much into my thirties. We were at one of his favorite bars one night in my early twenties, just talking over a couple of beers. There was this loud, boisterous behemoth of a man there – just looking for trouble. He was talking smack to everyone there, hoping somebody would take his bait. He dropped himself down onto the stool next to my father, bumping him as he did it. He was being just generally loud and obnoxious, and I could see my old man getting annoyed. The guy bumped into him another two or three times…
     My father turned around, “Listen, Buddy. I’m just trying to enjoy a beer with my son. Why don’t you let me buy you a drink? You can take it over there, sit down and relax a bit.” He motioned to Lori – the bartender…
     “Fuck you! I don’t want your damned drink!” A few seconds passed and they guy said, “You’re Red, ain’t ya? Yeah, I heard about you… Maybe you were something back in the day, but you’re just an old man now. You don’t look so tough to me.”
     My father smiled, “Like I said, I’m not looking for trouble. I’m just having a beer with my son. I asked you nicely to back off. I’m not gonna ask again.” He turned to face me again, and the guy put his hand on my father’s shoulder and spun him back around.
     “How about we see how tough you are, OLD MAN??”

     My father stood up calmly, took his glasses off and placed them on the bar.
     It was an amazing thing to behold… it was like a saloon scene from an old western movie… The moment his glasses touched the bar, the whole raucous crowd fell silent and still. They all just stared. Everyone knew what it meant when Red put his glasses on the bar.

     My father stood five-foot-six. He was in his fifties by then and well past his prime. The other guy was twenty years younger and had at least a foot, and probably 150 pounds, on him. My old man looked him in the eye and said, “You!” When he poked his finger in his chest, it knocked the guy back a good 4 or 5 feet… “Outside.”
     My father calmly, quietly walked out the door. The other guy followed, laughing loudly and talking shit the whole way.

     I kid you not – about 30 seconds later, my father walked back in. He looked at the two friends the other guy came with and said, “You’re gonna wanna call your buddy an ambulance.” He sat back down next to me, put his glasses on and picked up his beer. He said to me, “The loudest guy in the bar is the loudest because he HAS to be. The quiet guys are quiet because they CAN be. They know they got nothing to prove. Those are the ones you gotta watch out for.”

     The day I understood the wisdom of this was the day I entered adulthood.

     I’ve always felt there’s nothing more attractive than confidence and nothing more repulsive than arrogance – but I never really understood what the difference was until then.
     A lot of people think confidence and arrogance are separate simply by a matter of degrees – or arrogance is just an obnoxious way to display your confidence.  Those people couldn’t be more wrong. Confidence and arrogance are polar opposites.

     Just as wisdom is the awareness of your own ignorance, confidence is the awareness of your own limitations.
     Arrogance is the lack of both.

     Confidence is an internal manifestation of self-esteem. Arrogance is an external manifestation of insecurity.
     Confidence is a solid foundation built upon self-awareness. Arrogance is a fragile façade surrounding self-doubt.
     Confidence is powerful and sexy. Arrogance is weak and repellent.

     Arrogance swells with our successes. Confidence is earned through our failures.

     Red was a truly shitty father – but he was a good man. It took me decades to learn how to reconcile those two things, and I’m eternally grateful for the peace I found in finally being able to do that.
     Despite his best efforts, he did make a man out of me.

September 23, 2016, 12:17:27 pm

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