“You know a man’s ear is not really attached to his head. He tends to back off if you show him his own ear.”
My dad always gave the strangest advice. A line like that should have been in a Clint Eastwood movie, not given as a life lesson to a boy who hadn’t yet made it into double digits. I was named after him but in an attempt to Americanize me the romantic moniker Eduardo Reynaldo was changed to the clunky Edward Rodney. Back then I felt much like our names, I was a tamed down version of him. I could never be as big as he was, or as tough, or as mean. He had a life that I could never imagine, one filled with killing, beatings and beat downs. He never backed down.
I remember coming home from school one day, about to eat my (un)usual pizza burger snack at the kitchen table and through the window I saw my best friend Greg walking up to the house. Earlier, I had made the mistake of mentioning to my folks that our classmate, Nick, was picking on him on the school bus. Nick laughed at him, taunted him, and threatened to bring a bb gun and shoot Greg in the face on their next bus ride.
Dad was working in the yard and when he saw Greg approaching the house he called him over to him. I was in a panic. Oh no! My dad is talking to one of my friends! After the short exchange, Greg came into the house with a confused look on his face. My father had told him to take a 2×4 piece of wood onto the bus and when he gets to Nick’s seat, hit him in the face with it. Dad promised Greg that the guy would never pick on him again.
He was from a different world than any of my friend’s fathers. He encouraged every crazy thing I was into, and he never questioned my interests. Having been in the army in WWII he had no shortage of information that a growing boy would want. He had the answer for every question I thought was incredibly important. Where do I place explosives to blow up a bridge? Where are the pressure points on the human body? How do I sharpen my Rambo knife? Plus he would volunteer facts I still wasn’t wise enough to know to ask. Did you know you could strangle someone with the ripcord from your parachute? Hopefully if there’s ever any sort of Red Dawn situation all this will come flooding back to me. I was quite a nerd of violence.
As I grew up my attitudes changed. The camouflage army gear I wore everyday (as is the custom with uniforms, I guess) was replaced by Jimi Hendrix t-shirts. The amazement and pure fascination I had for guns and bullets and the raw violence of shooting them was now eclipsed by the fear of the psychic weight of the evil pistol in my hand; it was so heavy. Its purpose: you point it at something and it dies. It was not cool to me anymore, and its power, I realized, was too dangerously great. We had entered the stage where I no longer wanted to be a soldier in his army, and wished they had never made him one either. After I had lost my bloodthirst and was no longer interested in his weapons and warfare expertise, he switched his encouragement to buying guitars, lessons and tour vans. Just like when I was a kid, even if he didn’t understand what I was doing, he trusted that I did.
Every once in a while he would start his programmed rant about how everyone should be in the army, that it would straighten them out. To him, everyone always had something wrong with them and the solution was always join the army. I would just have to ask, would you really want me to do what you did, Dad? He would be quiet for a moment and always say- no. I watched the killing he'd done take its toll. I watched him in his seventies crying at the things he'd had to do and watched those scars come out more and more as he was beginning to die. It's been eight years now, and I miss him everyday.
I’m so grateful that when I was grown he would finally tell me more about himself and at last I could understand our whole lives together. I got to hear the story of the bully in his neighborhood. The boy terrorized everyone and would chase my dad all the time. Finally my dad left a 2×4 piece of wood behind a fence and the next time the bully ran after him he made a mad dash for the board. When the bully came around the fence he let him have it, right in the face. And he never picked on my dad again. You teach what you know.