My son vaulted from school, grabbed my hand, and shouted, “Daddy, I had the BEST day EVER!” I was delighted to hear this. There had been some increasingly annoying issues at his new school, his excitement waning in the weeks since he had started.
“Awesome, bud. Why was it the best day ever?” I said, eager to hear stories of fun and friends.
“Because X wasn’t in school. No one pushed me or kicked me or anything.”
X is who we shall be calling The Bully.
X has been very physical with my son. Hitting. Kicking. Grabbing. Scratching. All the fun bullying stuff. To say this has been a challenge for me to deal with would be a gross understatement. I don’t feel quite old enough to bust out a “back in my day,” but I think I have no choice.
The old-school way to stop bullying
Back in my day, the public school environments I grew up in were pretty rough. I was small, nerdy and, of course, I had glasses (confession: all this is still true of me). In other words, an easy target for bullying. No surprise then: I was picked on for the bulk of my scholastic career. Bullied, attacked and assaulted. I also once stared down the barrel of a pistol and witnessed a small riot.
But one day in middle school I decided I would be a target no more. I fought back. I used my wit, my words, my speed (to run away after my wit and words got me in trouble), and a general complete lack of concern for my own well-being. These weren’t natural responses, but they were how I managed to dissuade the punk-ass bullies from messing with me. Please don’t get the impression I’m bragging of great conquests and masculine bravado. I just made things so annoying for the kids who messed with me that they stopped. Nonetheless, I was still scared every damn day I was in school.
So when my son came to me for weeks on end complaining about X’s bullying, I wanted to share some sage advice. These rational, wise words came rushing to my mind: “OK, when X hits you again, here’s what I want you to do. When you’re outside, find the biggest stick under the trees. Walk up to X and hit him as hard as you can with the stick. Don’t stop until he promises to never hit you again. If he hits you again, forget the stick and find a rock.”
Hey, those tactics worked for me in the wilds of Wilmington, Del. in the ’80s and ’90s. However, such Cro-Magnon techniques since have been frowned upon. Instead, I asked my son if he told the teacher.
Why? Why had I gotten so soft? Is the world emasculating men? Is this new generation weak? Have millennial teachers turned the world into a big, fluffy safe space? Johnny Lawrence and Eagle Fang would be ashamed I was unwilling to encourage my son to strike first and strike hard. No mercy!
Truth is, the world has progressed and I’ve grown up. Sometimes, it’s a little annoying.
A little empathy, a little kindness, a lot of patience
It started with my wife saying she had seen X, and it seemed like he may have some developmental challenges. I rolled my eyes.
“I think that kid is a douche bag,” I said. My wife made it clear I wasn’t being helpful.
Over time we spoke with X’s parents after other parents in the school started complaining about X’s bullying ways. After our chat, I had to do something really, really annoying: Have empathy.
What must it feel like to have an entire grade’s worth of parents in a private school angry, upset and eager for your kid to be kicked out? How hard must it be to come to parent events, knowing most of the other parents see you as a failure and your kid as nothing more than a violent monster? You’d feel like you were failing. Failing as a person. Failing as a parent. Perhaps worst of all, failing your kid. It has to be brutal.
I’d like to say X’s parents have become my friends, and we now work together to solve our joint problem. Well, life doesn’t work that way. It is clear they are trying, though. Whether we agree on their tactics, we know they are earnestly doing something, and things seem to be slowly improving. And I mean REAL slowly.
Lately the world seems quick to escalate every issue into a binary encounter between good and evil. One side is a paragon of morality with all the answers, and the other drinks the blood of infants and is beyond salvation. Nuance has been lost, empathy has been discarded, and indignant conflict over every minor issue seems inevitable.
I could’ve surrendered to this feeling when dealing with X bullying my son. I could’ve spit fire and venom into my son’s ear, and led him down a path of violent reply. Instead, I went a different route. I chose peace and kindness. Not because I’m soft, but because I desire to live in a world of peace and kindness. The only way this happens is if we all raise our children to be peaceful and kind.
Although if X goes back to his previous violent behavior, I’d consider bringing back the sticks.