I confess: I was eavesdropping. But it sounded like something I should hear.
We were all whiling away the ten-minute "breakout" at the pool, passing around juice boxes and snacks, trying to rehydrate and nourish the guppies.
The dad at the next table said to his son, who was perhaps eight, "That kid wasn't very kind to you, was he? No, he wasn't. Buddy, sometimes you have to ask a grownup for help. And sometimes, even though I hope you never have to, even though I hope you can always handle it in a better way... sometimes, buddy? Sometimes you have to hit him back. You be loud. Be loud and proud. Be confident, and take care of you."
Oh, my goodness. My ears perked and my subconscious heightened. This is what fathers tell their sons, when push comes to shove.
We all start with the peacemaking approach, the Parents' Guide to Conflict Resolution. And then we realize that not all of us have read the small print, and not all the parents are teaching their kids the same rules.
And sometimes there comes a season when you just have to teach your child to stand up, to do okay out there. Once we've established the expected protocol, then we talk about when to break the rules.
I might have leaned more toward the peacemaking route, perhaps longer than I should. But a boy has to become a man someday. And a man knows how to defend himself, and later his wife, and ultimately his family.
This is what fathers teach their sons.
I wasn't just eavesdropping. I was taking notes.