I had heard the same argument maybe a dozen times in my life, and usually under these circumstances.
I was outside a watering hole having a cancer stick when I was joined by another patron, a man in work clothes and steel toe boots, and sporting a magnificent red beard that offset the slight paunch acquired from 30 odd years of draft beer and upper body-intensive labour. He seemed like a pleasant enough chap as we exchanged truisms about the weather and the fortunes of local sport teams. That is, until we were distracted by a young man under 21 years of age wearing sunglasses driving a convertible 25 year old sports car much too fast and much too loudly (if your car doesn’t sound like farm equipment, you won’t have to turn the stereo up) for a residential neighbourhood at that time of day. If that is not enough for you to register disgust, I’ll add that he was also proudly wearing an exceptionally garish Ed Hardy tee shirt. If not a douchebag, he was certainly a douchebag trainee.
Of course such a display in front of working class middle-aged men will inevitably lead to a discussion on what’s with these kids today and why are they always on my fucking lawn. It’s a phenomenon as regular as gravity and it always ends the same way.
“You know what these kids today need that we had?” asked my smoking companion.
“Proper instruction on how to function in society?” I answered… incorrectly it seems. Also, did we have proper instruction?
“Respect!” he spat out. “We had respect for our elders. And I’ll tell you why: because if I back-sassed my Old Man I would’ve gotten a smack to the face.”
Yes, of course! This has been mentioned to me ever since I was the young whippersnapper at the heart of such debates. How could I get that wrong? But the more I thought about it, the more I kept thinking of what I didn’t hear.
For example, I’ve never heard anyone say they were loyal to a company because the boss punched them in the face. I’ve never heard anyone say the reason they revered Nelson Mandela was because he backhanded them. I’ve never heard anyone say they “back the blue” because a police member bitch-slapped the smile off their skull during a routine traffic stop.
You know what else I have never heard? I have never heard anyone finish that sentence off with, “… because my Dad was a decent man,” or, “… because my Dad worked hard to benefit the community,” or, “… because my Dad ended a lot of people’s suffering.” I’m sure those folks exists, but they rarely have a cigarette with me outside of bars. I suppose that my be an argument against my lifestyle choices, and I will ponder those implications as I stare at the ceiling during my next bout with insomnia.
It occurred to me that my partner in addiction was trying to justify his loyalty to a man with anger-management issues, or perhaps justify his own child-rearing techniques. I decided to exercise a modicum of caution.
“Perhaps,” I suggested, “that what you’re describing is fear?”
“What’s the difference?” he asked.
“Just ask the citizens of North Korea,” I replied.
“Fuck the North Koreans!” he said at he flicked his butt at the parking lot and hurried inside to his pint of draft.