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Hand Book of a Hidden Man, Part 6: I Learn to Fight

05-30-2022 | By Dan Zimmerman | Issue 121

I was on the sidewalk in front of our house in San Luis Obispo. In 1952 it must've been a very quiet place, otherwise it's hard for me now, looking back, to understand why my mother let me go out by myself. I was only four. But she was very pregnant at the time, and maybe wasn't feeling all that well. Or perhaps she was trying to keep an eye on me through the front window.

Anyway, for Christmas I had been given a teddy bear. I loved my new soft friend; it was a panda. On that day I was walking down the sidewalk with it, when a larger boy from down the street strode up, his shadow looming, and stood there glaring down at me.

He might've said, "Ah, isn't that nice." Or simply, "Is that yours?" When I said, "Yes," he snatched the bear out of my arms and proceeded to gouge one of its eyes out with a pocketknife. Then he handed it back, saying something like, "Here's your teddy bear, kid," and turning around with a smirk walked triumphantly away. I was overcome with shock and grief.

I ran inside and told Mom what happened. She tried to comfort me, but I think I was inconsolable. That night when Dad came home, she told him all about it, and I imagine he was pretty pissed off.

He took me aside and began to give me dad-therapy. He might've asked which neighbor boy it was, but I rather think he got right to the central issue, saying something like, "You're going to have to learn, Danny, that some people in this world are not going to like you. And some of them, buddy, are even going to want to hurt you! You need to be ready for this."

"But why did he do it, Daddy?" I asked tearfully.

My father just hugged me again and didn't answer right away. I think he'd been trying to deal with questions like this most of his life.

"Well, Danny," he said, "I'm not sure why. It could be any number of things. Maybe he was just mad at the world. Could be he got that pocketknife for Christmas, but what he really wanted was something like your panda bear. Maybe he could tell your parents really loved you, and he was upset because he didn't think he was loved like that."

"It's possible," he went on, "his father isn't a very nice guy, or doesn't hug him very much. Any of these things could've made him angry."

He hugged me again, and we were both very quiet. Then Dad had another thought: "Or maybe he was just jealous. Do you remember the movie we saw a few months ago, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs?"


"Remember when the beautiful queen in the castle heard from the magic mirror that she wasn't 'the fairest one of all'?"

"Yes," I said.

"Do you remember how very angry she became?" "Yes."

"The queen was envious. She was a wicked queen."

"What does that mean, Dad?" "It's a terrible thing, Danny."

I had seen it in the movies, but this was the first time that anything like that had happened to me. However, at that time in my life, I was already learning about darkness and light, good and evil. Dad talked a lot about spiritual war in church. He actually gave his entire life to hashing out the finer points of these things.

But back then, another person was also teaching me about the shadow realm—Walt Disney. I could almost say that Snow White and Pinocchio echoed though my psyche more than anything I was learning in church.

Dad repeated, "The queen was jealous." "What does that mean, Dad?"

"It's a terrible, vicious thing. It's when someone sees that you possess something, some grace, and they suddenly want it for themself. It's also known as envy. Maybe the bully saw you with your panda bear, and he sensed, truthfully so, that you knew kindness and love. He saw you radiate this, and realized violently that he desired it. You stood there before him like what the queen's magic mirror said, as "…the fairest one of all."

"Remember how furious the queen became? Remember what she did?" Dad was getting hot now, "how she asked a huntsman to cut out Snow White's heart, and bring it back to her in a box, so she could be sure that pure, guileless Snow White was dead?!"

He went on, fuming, "I think this bully did the same thing. He just saw you had something nice and he thought it should be his. He was filled with jealousy—and cut out your panda bear's eye!"

At that point Dad decided he was going to teach me how to defend myself. For him, that meant my learning how to box. We stood up and he proceeded to demonstrate the proper stance, which is very important. You must remain coiled and ready. Beyond that, you keep your left forearm in front of your face like a shield to protect yourself against a flying fist. Your right fist is kept ready to punch if an opening presents itself. Dad learned these things when he was a young man, and my guess is that it served him well.

As for me, the next time a bully tried to push me around I stood up to him, and popped him one. I think it was a very satisfying experience….