fatherlyFIRE Chapter 6
Schwartz: Oh yeah?
Schwartz: Says who?
Flick: Says me.
Schwartz: Oh yeah?
Flick: Well, I double-dare ya.
Ralphie the Narrator: The exact exchange and nuance of phrase in this ritual is very important.
Flick: Are you kidding? Stick my tongue to that pole? That’s dumb!
Schwartz: That’s ’cause you know it’ll stick!
Flick: You’re full of beans!
Schwartz: Oh yeah?
Schwartz: Well I double-dog-dare ya!
Ralphie the Narrator: Now it was serious. A double-dog-dare. What else was there but a “triple dare you”? And then, the coup de grace of all dares; the sinister triple-dog-dare.
Schwartz: I triple-dog-dare ya!
Narrator: Schwartz created a slight breach of etiquette by skipping the triple dare and going right for the throat!
Flick: Alright, alright.
From “A Christmas Story (1983) – R.D. Robb as Schwartz – IMDb.”
The tongue stuck. For many I guess, their first encounter with the phrase “triple dog dare” was the flagpole scene in the classic “A Christmas Story.” The movie and me have some things in common. We were both set in Hammond, Indiana where I grew up. And we know about triple dog dares.
“…the coup de grace of all dares; the sinister triple-dog-dare.”
Yes indeed. For me, those years ago, a High School Child of an Alcoholic, I often got triple-dog-dared or triple-dog-dared myself to attempt stunts, play pranks, and generally embody craziness in order to feel important. The result? I became known as “eccentric.”
Some insight can be gathered from studies in the subject of an alcoholic’s family describe a role often played by a child in the family. Yes, I was the “family hero.”
“The Hero” The Hero is a family member who attempts to draw attention away from the alcoholic/addict by excelling, performing well and generally being “too good to be true.” The Hero has a hope that somehow his or her behavior will help the alcoholic/addict to stop using. Additionally, the Hero’s performance-based behavior helps to block emotional pain and disappointment.”
“Children who have taken on the Family Hero role also seem prone to depression and anxiety, as they try so hard to make everything better than it was during their own childhood but inevitably feel as if they have failed, either due to their own dissatisfactions and old wounds, or due to the challenges and “bumps in the road” that life hands them.”
“…behavior helps to block emotional pain and disappointment.”
“seems prone to depression and anxiety…”
Check and check. Add to that my raw fear of abandonment. Because my situation was not the traditional alcoholic family. I was a child of an alcoholic, which can be devastating enough in adulthood, but add my father’s abandonment of me and our family when I was six and it seriously complicates matters. I relate to much in the academic literature about the common alcoholic family hero… “performance-based,” and being “too good to be true” was how I lived. The abandonment piece, however, was the strongest in my life. I believe it caused me to take dares to prove my worth and I worked hard at it, consciously and subconsciously.
By the time I entered high school, I’d begun to feel the bucket of emotions related to my father’s Triple A (alcoholism, abuse, abandonment). I began to think of myself as flawed and abandonable, that I had no value. Subconsciously then I was on a mission to prove to all who would look at me that I had significance. It was here I launched my rocket to adventure. Will I be recognized? Will I make a name for myself? Will I shatter the notion that I’m no good and worthless? High school was my test track. Before I could fire up the cobbled-together race car of my soul, there was another huge setback that served to intensify my search for worth. I desperately wanted to be a man, a good man. There was no male example in my life.
While I was a teenager, my mother, overcome with personal struggles and grief, attempted suicide. Almost another abandonment. During my mom’s episode, I began to think about death, really for the first time. First, the possibility of her death. Then, as she got better, I began to think about death in general and my death. All things I was doing stacked up to remind me I liked to laugh in the face of danger and all that stuff I thought a man might do.
Let the dares commence.
My quest for self-worth and to prove I wasn’t abandonable were about to become the driving force in my young life. Some of the events I’ll mention here aren’t dares at all, at least from an outside source. Some were silly, some were prompted by an outside source, and some were dangerous. Almost all were outrageous fun.
Like the time my friend John and I attempted to break the Guinness Book of World Records for speed-eating grapes. That goal grew out of our mission to find something we would have a shot at. Off to the store, home with several bags of seeded purple grapes. The record said the guy used seedless grapes so we thought we’d make it harder using seeded. We had no idea what was involved in setting a record, but amid a puddle of grape juice sprinkled with seeds, the record fell that day. Alas, with no Guinness judge present, we had to settle for knowing in our hearts we were the best. I was important.
Yep, I spelled it right. Like many kids in the late 60’s and early 70’s, Evel Knievel was my hero. I set out to emulate the world-famous daredevil first with bicycles and then with motorcycles. I even used my Schwinn 10-speed as a jumper (not the best choice!). That seat was hard. I learned quickly not to be sitting down when I landed. I progressed to jumping a chain-link fence with my bike. Later, on a small Honda motorcycle, I built a rickety ramp and jumped over an old, abandoned car. I was daring myself in these events, and yes, they were dangerous.
Here he comes, boogity boogity.
In addition to Evel Knievel, I was also a big fan of singer/songwriter/comedian Ray Stevens. I knew the words to his “Gitarzan,” “Harry the Hairy Ape,” and of course, “The Streak.” Here’s one of the few times I didn’t quite obey the law. Now I can’t remember who dared whom. A couple of friends and I impulsively decided to streak down a neighborhood street. Later, during a second attempt, we got very close to a girls’ volleyball game. Don’t look, Ethel! Not proud of this one. Still funny, and a bold illustration of my point. That’s the naked truth (sorry!).
The Fast and the Funny
When I was 15, my grandfather bought me a 1964 Chevy Impala and tossed me the keys. I immediately gathered a few friends and off to downtown Chicago we went. And so it began.
Armed with an old fire extinguisher we found in an abandoned garage, we filled it with water, then added air from a gas station, and jumped in my car and drove around randomly squirting anyone we saw. Went on for weeks. Mean. And hilarious. Several years later, while home on leave from the Marines, I was in a left-turn lane with all the windows down. Out of nowhere, a car pulled alongside on the right and blasted me with a fire extinguisher! Mad? Nah. I l wiped off the water and laughed hard, realizing I had somehow gotten what I deserved.
Other car hijinks included playing cat and mouse, chasing each other in our cars, driving through streets, alleys, and even people’s front and back yards. It worked much better once I had a VW Bug, much easier to maneuver. I even took that thing onto motorcycle trails in the local woods. Sometimes on the way to school.
Motor-powered dare-taking culminated with my entry in the Lake County Indiana Fair Demolition Derby. I’ve written about this before in my blog. To summarize, at 17, I was the only driver under 30 in the competition. My mother had to sign a document allowing me to compete. She signed, never dreaming that I, a lower-middle class kid, could pull it off.
A reporter interviewed me because I was so young. He reminded me two drivers had been killed the year before. A wave of fear ran through me. Still, away I went. I wasn’t ready when the “go” flag dropped. My helmeted head banged up against my car door pillar. All of a sudden, I was in survival mode. It was dangerous. I managed to finish third.
“The Marines Are Looking For A Few Good Men.”
The derby helped me see danger can equal death, and that bothered me, especially as my entrance date into the Marines crept closer. Vietnam was not officially over, though no new troops had been sent for some time, it was still a possibility. And I just had to join those maniac Marines, known for starting trouble if they couldn’t find any around them. Still, I was determined. After all, an uncle laughed at me and told me I couldn’t possibly succeed in the Marine Corps. Sounded like a dare. Succeed I did.
My high school years, ending with joining the United States Marine Corps, left me with my tongue stuck to a flagpole more than once. As for improving my self-worth and diminishing my fear of abandonment, all these things didn’t help much. Only the Marines and the Bible began to help me re-program my thought patterns and see myself in a different light. Those will be the next couple of fatherlyFIRE chapters. I know in my mind I am not worthless and abandonable, but it’s still all too easy to slide down the old path.
Many years later, I’m still taking dares and crazy challenges. Ask me about my seven or eight polar bear swims (one in a full-on Batman suit). And my several long-distance motorcycle trips. And the time I piloted a Piper Warrior airplane. And the time I was dared to do an interpretive dance dressed as the Green Hornet. And the hermit crabs inhabiting my surf bathroom. Or Elvis the Buffalo in one family room. And Zeke the Zebra in another. Crazy? Maybe. I prefer all-out creative, tongue-stuck-to-the flagpole, fun-loving personal expression.
Much has changed in my life, even recently. Peace. And unfettered fun. Thanks to God, my wife and on-board wackiness advisor Patty, my kids, and my grandkiddos. I’ve mostly left the past behind and it’s about time.
Hey, Bill. This post helps me understand why you are such a “wild and crazy man” (credit to Steve Martin). I’m eager to read the next post. Please get to it before I die. To my knowledge, it’s not imminent, but it IS inevitable.
Thank you, Rod for reading my musings!