Butt Out!

If there’s one parenting ritual I’ve inherited from my dad, it’s the propensity to lecture. My kids undoubtedly do not enjoy them, but it beats getting hit with a chancla. My dad viewed lecturing as an art form, and he made sure I heard every single word.

Here are some examples.

When I was about nine years old, I told my dad to “butt-out.” As you can imagine, it didn’t go over too well. What made it worse is that I said it within earshot of a lot of other people.

It happened on May 5.

While he and I were attending and enjoying the annual Cinco de Mayo festival in downtown San Jose, a fight broke out between two inebriated men. I assumed that we would avoid the situation and head in another direction. Surprisingly, my dad had other intentions: He decided to break up the fight. As he pivoted and moved toward the two drunk men, I — in a knee-jerk reaction — said, “Butt out!” Up until that time, I had never said anything even remotely close to that to either of my parents. From the moment the words left my mouth, I knew I was in trouble.

The fight was no longer a concern; all attention shifted to me. For the next several minutes, I was on the receiving end of a very long lecture. It began at the festival, continued during our walk to the car, and ended about 55 minutes later — sometime during our drive back home. Although I can’t remember his exact words, I’m pretty sure the lecture began with something like, “I never talked to my parents that way,” and ended with something like, “I never talked to my parents that way.”

Years later, I told him that I said “butt out” out of fear. I wish I could have articulated that at the time, because it would have certainly prevented the hour-long tongue-lashing I endured.

The only lecture that eclipsed its length came years later — when my dad discovered a hickey on my neck. Embarrassingly, the last words from that lecture were, “… and you’re going to put a Band-Aid over that before you go to school tomorrow!” I did…reluctantly.

One evening I was saved from a lecture by none other than Grandmaster Flash.

While I was enjoying some music in my room, my dad walked in, handed me a piece of paper that I had left on his desk, and asked, “Would you mind telling me what this is?”

I opened the paper and began to read these lines:

Don’t push me ’cause I’m close to the edge
I’m trying not to lose my head

I explained that they were rap lyrics that I had written down; and then — in my best Melle Mel — said:

It’s like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under

He got The Message. I dodged a bullet.

When I think back to these moments, I can’t help but appreciate the words. Parents lecture out of love, and I — due to my less than stellar behavior — was the recipient of a lot of love.

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