Today was my grandpa’s birthday. He would have been 96 this year. My grandfather was a great family man. He was a World War II veteran in the U.S. Navy and had worked with his hands for so many years of his life that when he rubbed them together they sounded like to pieces of rough sandpaper. Despite his toughness and grit, he was also very caring and had a great sense of humor. I stole his custom of giving people nicknames as a term of endearment.
My grandfather and my dad used to talk to me about growing up and being a man even when I was real young. They used to talk to me about working hard and being responsible. They also used to like to tell stories about fights they had with other kids when they were young. Men take pride in being tough and not letting anyone push them around. That’s especially true around these parts because sometimes toughness and the willingness to fight is all some people have to identify with. The men who raised me had way more substance than that but when you grow up around some of these ignorant cats the fighting part comes in handy from time to time.
Like I said before, this is the land of misguided soldiers who look for any reason to have confrontation with other people. We literally grew up around people who wanted to fight because it made them feel like somebody. Bullies were everywhere. I was raised that the best way to deal with a bully is to beat him down as best as you can one time and hopefully you do it so well that he won’t bother you anymore. My grandmother used to say that if the person was too big to fight off with your hands find something on the ground and hit them with that. She used to give us that advice from her experiences of fighting her way home when she was in school. That’s how deep the culture is. I don’t think the elders worried too much about it because unless things got totally out of hand they all lived to tell stories about the battles they had.
Now there’s a new generation with the same basic approach but they have far less guidance and support from their family. They also have weapons that can wipe out entire groups of people at once. Their guns are status symbols in the circle of people they hang around. They want to show them off just like guys used to want to show off gold teeth, expensive tennis shoes and car rims. If they have the guns they are waiting for a reason to put it on display. What better reason than another dude talking shit? It’s the perfect recipe for shootings that seem to be happening for no real reason at all. The shooting is somewhat new. The fighting for no reason has been there for a long time. Last weekend a man and his teenage son were killed at their home in what seems to be an argument between some girls that started over rumors. Thirty years ago that argument would have led to a few fist flying and everyone waking up the next day to tell the story. Now two people aren't here anymore for nothing. An argument like that can breakout anywhere at anytime when anyone is around. That's frightening.
If I had a son right now I honestly don’t know what I would say to him in regards to how to carry himself. I don’t know if he would have much freedom to go anywhere without me bringing him. I would probably teach him the same principles my grandpa gave to my dad and they both passed to me but I think I would take out some of the tough bravado. I wouldn’t want him to be so soft that people ran all over him but I would be so scared of him ending up in a cemetery or a prison that I would want him to think violence was the worst way possible to deal with any issue. I would hope he could enjoy growing up in New Orleans without me having to take him away from here to escape this drama.
It’s not the New Orleans tradition to walk away from a fight but we need to do something different. We have to switch things up a little so the next generation isn’t caught in this cycle. I know Walter Harris would be okay with that because he wanted nothing more than his family to be okay and you can’t be okay if you are dead or incarcerated. It's time to apply this to all of our extended family and neighbors in the community.