What happened when my dad met a bully

This photo, originally published in the Monahan Post News in 1947, shows Mil Bardsley, bottom right, with his American Legion boxing team. The photo is part of his son's, author Greg Bardsley, personal archive.

Greg Bardsley is the author of the novels "Cash Out" (2012) and "The Bob Watson" (2016) from HarperCollins Publishers. A former columnist and speechwriter, he lives in the San Francisco Bay area. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.

(CNN)As a child, my dad was so small that people called him Minnow.

Greg Bardsley
His size often invited teasing, ridicule and bullying. One day in grade school, it culminated with an older (and much larger) bully challenging my dad to a fight in front of everyone after school.
    As my dad would tell me, his stomach was tied in knots for the rest of the day. He didn't want to fight, and he knew that if he did fight, he almost certainly would get beat up. Hounded by giddy classmates all day — "Minnow, what are you gonna do?" — my dad told them that he would show up for the fight. He knew that if he cowed, the bully would be emboldened and things for everyone would only get worse.
      Frothy excitement engulfed the school as news spread that Minnow would fight the bully. Finally, the school bell rang, and my dad walked to the specified location, followed by a throng of curious classmates. Fear gripped him.
        When my dad finally arrived, the bully wasn't there.
        My dad waited. And waited.
          The bully never showed.
          My dad said he learned an important lesson that day. For bullies, fear and intimidation is their oxygen. Fear and intimidation give them power. And while some bullies will fight, a great many more are relying on you to cower — it is the secret of their power.
          As things turned out, "Mellow Minnow," as he was known, would later become a Golden Gloves boxer and would finish his career as one of the top flyweights in the United States. He said that during the Korean War, a few larger GIs made the mistake of trying to push him around.
          Most people who knew my dad would never have guessed this part of his history --— that the affable, kind, quiet and self-deprecating Iowa native with bifocals and a comb-over was once a fighter, and that he would stand up for himself, for others and for what was right, if needed.
          Ever since the Trump mob followed the call of their leader and descended on the Capitol on January 6, I have thought a lot about the parallels of my dad's story and the fears many of us have felt.
          Some members of Congress reportedly voted against electoral certification on January 6 because they were afraid for their physical safety. MAGA bullies threatened to descend on state capitals with more violence. They threatened to attack Washington, DC. They showed us their guns and hatred. Fear ensued, and some argued that this week's presidential inauguration should be moved indoors. Others suggested that we should "go easy" on the insurrectionists so as not to trigger more terror and violence.
          Instead, people decided to stand up to the bullies.
          In recent weeks, hundreds of domestic terrorists have been arrested. People across the political spectrum have stepped up and identified radicalized friends or family members who participated in the insurrection. Ten Republicans joined Democrats in impeaching our top bully, despite numerous death threats from the mob he egged on.
          Local and state Republicans have been recognized for refusing to be bullied into overturning election results in their communities. Even the losing vice president refused to leave the Capitol during the January 6 insurrection, determined to execute his duty and protect our democracy even as the MAGA mob hunted for him in the Capitol, chanting, "Hang Mike Pence."
          More than 25,000 soldiers arrived in Washington DC, to face any bullies who might show up with their guns, swastikas, Confederate flags and bully clubs. And this week President Biden took the oath of office outdoors, right where the attempted coup had unfolded only fourteen days earlier. People faced their fears, and they ensured the orderly and democratic transfer of power.
          People stood up to the bullies, who never showed up. That includes our top bully, who chose to flee town.
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            This week we are reminded that fear and intimidation are diminished when people come together and stand up to the bullies. We have learned that there are enough leaders (and citizens) who will not appease — because history tells us that appeasing fascists, thugs and bullies never works. People stood up for what was right, and the bullies lost a bit of their dark power.
            I wasn't planning on sharing the story of my late father. Then this weekend as I cleaned out our office closet, I found a photo of him and his American Legion boxing team — Minnow, the little guy who faced his fears and stood up to the bully, and in doing so found new power and light.