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  • Writer's pictureTina

You're Too Soft For This World

Welcome to yet another Monday, dear reader. I hope you had a wonderful weekend and celebrated all the influential men in your life. I lost my dad to soft tissue sarcoma in 2006. Since then, Father’s Day has held a mixture of emotions for me. Obviously, I celebrate my bib overall wearing wonder buns. He is an amazing dad and husband and deserves to be celebrated. However, this year, when it came to remembering my own dad, I stayed quiet and did a lot of reflection. I view my dad as a force of nature. There just isn’t anyone else like him. I feel my husband embodies all the best traits of my dad, but nobody is quite like him, and nobody can fill the vacuum created by his passing.

For whatever reason, a phrase my dad said to me several times over the years keeps repeating in my head. As a kid and a young adult, I considered this phrase somewhat of a criticism at best and an insult at worst. However, as time has passed and experience has (hopefully) made me a bit wiser, I don’t believe my dad meant it as an insult. Now I think it was an observation and a life lesson.

I always viewed my dad as my hero, and I still do. I looked to him as a source of calm in a storm, an anchor in a tumultuous sea, and a sail to steer me in the right direction. He was the only person in this world I felt understood me. He made me believe that all would be well no matter how badly I screwed up, and he could fix absolutely anything. As his child, I wanted nothing more than to make him proud…I still do. The first time I remember seeing my dad as a true hero was when I was eight years old. For years, I wanted a pony, doesn’t every kid? For two years, I saved all my money from birthdays, holidays, and earnings doing odd jobs. My dad told me that if I saved my money and thought I had enough to pay for half of my pony, he would contribute the other half. We shook hands and made a deal.

I had an old mayonnaise jar with a metal lid. My dad sliced a slit into the lid, and I used it as my bank. I drew a label and taped it to the front of the jar with the words My Horse Money and a pretty poor horse drawing. Every spare cent went into this jar. When I saved $100, I was excited and thought I had finally reached my goal. My dad informed me that my $100 with his $100 contribution would buy me a horse meant for the glue factory. I was disappointed but continued to save. I asked for money for my birthday and Christmas and would do odd jobs for my pop and grandma to earn a few extra dollars. Finally, I had saved $300. When I took my now well-worn jar to my dad and announced I had saved $300, he didn’t believe me. We sat together and counted my money. Lo and behold, I did have $300. With his agreement to meet me halfway, I had $600. My dad told me he thought I could pick up a pretty good pony for that and promised we would soon go to the local horse auction. I remember seeing a twinkle of pride in his eye during this conversation.

Finally, after weeks of pestering, we planned to attend the local livestock auction. I was eight, and this place seemed like sheer chaos. It was crowded and loud, and stinky. There were animals of all kinds, pigs, sheep, goats, cows, and horses. We looked in the stock pens, and I was shocked at the condition of some of the poor animals. What will forever stick in my mind is the inhumanity of it all. The animals were not treated with kindness or sympathy. At best, they were treated like objects. At worst, they were abused. I remember hearing this poor dairy cow bellowing in pain and fear. She was sick, needed to be milked, and was afraid.

To make matters worse, there were a group of young Amish men tormenting her with a cattle prod. They were shocking her directly on her overly full udder, and her eyes were wild with pain and fear. It was traumatizing. My heart rate is up just writing this.

I remember being horrified, confused, and angry…very, very angry. I cried and begged my dad to help her and to make them stop hurting her. My dad looked at me long and hard, like he was grappling with a major decision. He left me by a post, told me to stay put, and stormed off to the poor tormented cow’s aide. My dad grabbed the cattle prod from the Amish man, knocked his hat off his head, and told them they were poor excuses for human beings tormenting an old, sick cow like that. He asked them if they felt like real men torturing and beating that cow. He also told them that if they didn’t stop, they would know what it feels like to be beaten, and he would shove that cattle prod up their asses. The men exchanged words with my dad, but he didn’t back down and wouldn’t leave until they left the poor cow alone. The men grudgingly left the cow alone. As the men walked away from the cow pen, one of the men punched the cow in the head as he walked by. My dad slapped the guy’s hat off and then slapped him across the head. As he stood there with balled fists, ready for a fight, the guy picked up his hat, dusted it off, called my dad an asshole, and walked away. I was afraid, but my dad was a superhero at that moment. My dad could have taken on the world in my eyes.

He returned to me, asked me if I was okay, picked me up, and I melted into his arms, sobbing. He stroked my hair and told me to quit crying; everything was okay. I asked him why those men did that to the cow, and he answered, “Sometimes men are the animals.” We didn’t buy a pony that day. On the ride home, I was worrying about the poor cow. My dad reached across the truck seat and took my hand. He said, “You’re too soft for this world, little buddy. You have to toughen up, or it will eat you alive.” However, he looked at me like I was the best thing in the world. I know I looked at him like he was my hero.

There were other incidents after that when my dad repeated, “You’re too soft for this world, buddy.” Growing up, I had my heart broken many times over the injustices and cruelty of the world. The last time my dad said this to me, we were in San Antonio, Texas, walking along the riverwalk. We were on one last hoorah before he went to M.D. Anderson in Houston to begin treatment for the disease that would take him from me. Sitting outside a convenience store along the riverwalk was a destitute man. This man had obvious disabilities, had urinated all over himself, and was crying, begging for help and money.

I remember my dad put himself between me and the man, and he had every intention to keep walking. I looked at my dad in panic and said, “Oh God, Daddy, we have to do something. We have to help him.” My dad put his arm around my shoulders and said, “Buddy, we can’t do anything for this guy. If we give him money, he’ll spend it on cigarettes and booze. Keep walking.” I looked at my dad as I pulled my wallet out and said, “I have to do something.” My dad slapped my hand away from my purse and looked at me long and hard once again. I stared back at him with tears in my eyes and a stubborn set to my jaw. He sighed and said, “This isn’t going to do any good.” However, he pulled his wallet out, gave the man a fifty-dollar bill, told him to get something to eat, and asked if he could buy him some dry clothes. The man thanked my dad for his kindness and generosity and declined the dry clothes.

As we walked away, I took my dad’s hand. He pulled me in for a tight hug, kissed the top of my head, and again said, “You’re too soft for this world, kid. It’s going to eat you up.” I hugged him and told him he was a good man and loved him. When we circled back to the convenience store on the river walk, the impaired man was sitting in the same spot with a hoagie, a forty-ounce beer, smoking a pack of cigarettes, still wearing his urine-drenched clothes. He smiled when he saw us, raised his forty-ounce in cheers, and said, “God bless you, sir!” My dad looked at me as if to say I told you so and replied, “Thank my daughter.”

As we walked away, my dad said, “I told you he’d spend it on beer and cigarettes.” I said, “At least he is smiling instead of crying.” My dad squeezed my shoulder and informed me, “You’ve always been a hammerhead,” but he said it with love and a bit of pride. I no longer believe my dad meant “You’re too soft for this world” as an insult. I think my dad was worried for me but was also proud that I felt empathy for other living beings.

Sometimes, I do feel like I am too soft for this world. Sometimes, the cruelty, inhumanity, greed, and darkness feel like it squeezes the very life out of me. There are days I feel so sad and angry over what men do to other living creatures. But then, I remember my dad and the twinkle in his eye when he would look at me right before he did something difficult but heroic, and I also remember that there is goodness in this world. There might not be any heroes precisely like my dad, but there are still heroes. I hold to the belief that God broke the mold when he created my dad.

On this beautiful Monday, stay safe, be smart, honor the heroes in your life, and don’t be afraid to be too soft for this world; this world needs some softness, and keep washing your hands.

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