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Missing Harold 

Fathers, sons, guns and wild men

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"Are you prepared to kill a man tonight?"

"No."

"Are you prepared to die tonight?"

"No."

"Then put the gun away and we will decide whether we call the police or go outside and try to help out."

I was age 15. The questions to me were from my father. I knew shotguns. I'd been hunting grouse and rabbits since age 12.

Bob, our neighbor, known with affection as "Wild Man," was not long out of prison. For a scary five minutes, Bob and two strangers had startled the peace of a rural Upper Michigan summer evening with angry shouting and threats.

Without saying a word, I had gotten my 12-gauge pump shotgun, found and loaded several shells, but failed to capture my father's attention until I racked a shell into the chamber. That sound meant business.

Bob was colorful — larger than life to me. He had killed a man in a barroom brawl. I believed Bob when he said he didn't start the fight and regretted the result. We did not know him back then, having only met him after he was paroled.

Bob let me drive his one-of-a-kind go kart, which could reach speeds of 80 mph. Unlike Bob, I hadn't driven it in traffic on Highway 41. Not yet. Bob also let me try out his Harley, a big improvement, I thought, over the Honda 90 my friend Ted would only reluctantly let me borrow. These things my father had no need to know.

That night, watching and hearing a scary argument, I feared if things went wrong between Bob and these strangers, Bob might end up back in prison. And how dull would that have made my life?

Maybe my father knew more than he generally cared to reveal. His words caught my attention: "You bring a gun or even a knife to a fight and you better plan on using it, or it will be used on you."

And so, he and I hesitated. Before we could act, the shouting ended and the strangers walked away.

This night 50 years ago was a remote memory until Kenosha, Wisconsin, where Jacob Blake, yet another shot-in-the-back Black man, became part of our national anguish over racism, America's original sin. It was Kenosha that triggered these recollections after a 17-year-old, baby-faced white boy and his assault rifle were welcomed to the angry and volatile streets by law enforcement. They were welcomed with predictable results — more innocent lives lost and an empty kid charged with homicide.

My father, Harold, a man I always loved and often hated — a construction worker, a Republican and a humble, let's-not-discuss-it, World War II veteran — wasn't in Kenosha to stop this errant young man. Nor were there other Harolds who might have reasoned with him that night, rather than urging him on.

My father, Harold, loved the outdoors, liked hunting and kept guns for their utility. But more than anything else, Harold loved his family and his community. He took care of both.

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About The Author

Steve Pence

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