“Guns for show; knives for a pro.”–“Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.” 1998.
My father gave me my first knife when I was five. It was just a pocket-knife, but I was in love with it, because I’d watched my father shave with his Bowie knife, which I thought was immense, and my mother thought a great example of stupid machismo.
It was both.
“You have to give me a penny for it,” he told me. “You always have to give someone a penny when they give you a knife, so that it doesn’t cut your friendship.” So I gave him a penny.
And he taught me how to use it; first for whittling, later for other things.
“Never, ever, leave home without a knife. You’re always going to need it.”
“It’s a tool. You can use it for a lot of different things.”
Somewhat ambiguous, but I caught the jist of it. As I grew older, he explained to me.
“Fire is an instrument. You can use it to cook food, or boil your granny. A gun is an instrument. Inanimate object. There is no such thing as an ‘assault rifle.’ That’s like saying ‘assault stone’, or assault rolling pin. Anything you can use to hurt someone is a potential weapon.”
“So why the knife?”
Then I had to read Grey’s Anatomy.
Well, I read enough of it to convince my father that I’d read it, anyway.
“Are you afraid of guns?”
“No.” I wanted one desperately.
“That’s because you’ve never been shot.”
“I’ve seen people shot…”
“You’re not paying attention. Have you ever been cut?”
“Everyone has been cut. Might have been a shard of glass, or an accident in the kitchen. My point is, even though people fear guns, they fear knives more, because they have personal experience with being cut. Also, most people are more afraid of being disfigured than they are of death, because they don’t know what death is.”
Okay, dad. Whatever. Do shut up.
This was a mood that he got into from time to time; usually when he’d had too much to drink. I (somewhat) accepted it. Lest I piss on his grave, I do have to again point out that he was opposed to violence, if any means of escape were available; he just wanted us kids to know how to properly employ it if the situation called for it.
So I learned knife-fighting, and although my mother was completely opposed to having any firearms in the house, he also taught me how to field-strip a rifle. Then I had to do it blindfolded.
Christchurch, New Zealand! Are we done yet?
It came to an end of sorts one day when my father and I were having a conservation; I don’t remember what about, or the context of his following comment, but he said to me, “Of all of my sons, you are the only one ruthless enough to slit a man’s throat and feel no remorse.”
It was not a compliment. I never back-talked my father, but that statement hurt my feelings so badly that I said, “Gee, professor, wonder where I get that from?” And then I went into my bedroom and shut the door.
My mother overheard it all; and in my room, I could hear her demand that my father apologise to me.
He never said “I’m sorry” to anyone in his life. What he would do by way of apology was to try and make light of the situation, tell some jokes, insult himself if need be, and get the offended party to laugh. And it always worked.
Except for this time.
He came into my room, and began his usual routine; I sat stone-faced on the edge of my bed, refusing to look him in the eyes.
This went on for a while.
Finally, he got a hurt look on his face and said, “Well, alright then.”
The year that my father died, I was walking home and saw a little boy lying on the sidewalk alongside his bicycle, crying.
“Mister? Can you please help me?”
At first I thought he’d just had a bit of a spill; I couldn’t see any scrapes or blood; he pointed out that his shoelaces had gotten wound up in one of his bike pedals.
“Did you think about taking your shoe off?”
“I can’t. Look!”
They were indeed wound so tightly that I couldn’t get his shoe off, either.
“I”m going to have to cut your shoelaces. Just hold still. Don’t be afraid, it’s okay.”
I reached for my knife, and it wasn’t there. I’d forgotten it for the first and last time in my life.
So I went to the nearest house, and an elderly woman answered the door. I explained to her what the problem was, and asked if I could borrow a kitchen knife for a second.
She didn’t like the looks of me (who could blame her), and told me to wait for a minute, While I was outside checking on the little boy, she was looking through her picture window to ensure that I had no bad intentions.
She brought me a pair of safety-scissors. Smart woman.
So I cut the boy loose, told him my address, because he was worried that he would be in trouble when his parents saw his shoelaces; and I told him that I would buy him another pair if I had to, because I was the one who cut them, not him.
Then I gave the woman back her scissors. I gave thanks.
She smiled and said, “Thank you. You’re a fine young man.”
I wanted to believe her, but I didn’t. I just felt like I’d let my father down. I know now that he wouldn’t feel that way, if he were alive; but I shortly before and soon thereafter learned the true importance of protecting oneself, and your loved ones, by any means.
The art of war and the art of peace are kissing cousins.
You might not like that; I don’t like it either; doesn’t matter.
It’s the truth.