It seems like lately I have been seeing a lot about bullying on the news, on facebook, in school publications and just about everywhere I look. (Like here: An Important Message.)
Growing up, I experienced bullying almost everyday of my life.It is something that haunts me to this day, and something I am still affected by.
I can still remember the day it all started. It was probably only the second week of 1st grade. In 1st grade we were merged with kids from the other kindergarten classes, the kids who don’t know you. I even remember the incident where the new kids even got friends from my kindergarten class to shun me and not help me with a group project. It was the first time that I would find myself doing a group project by myself. The first of many, many years of being alone.
Sometimes at home wasn’t any better. My dad was a truck driver and mechanic much of my youth and then a Realtor later in life. He wasn’t home much, or if he was, he was out in his large detached garage fixing something. So many times it felt like it was just my mom, my sister and me. Being surrounded by women only I picked up their mannerisms and was interested in things they were. The same TV shows, crocheting to pass the time, listening to the same music (Dolly Parton, Whitney Houston, The Judds, Debbie Gibson…see a theme there…).
It was worse when my dad’s brother would come down from Duluth. My uncle would call me “Little Lord Fontleroy”. His endearing <sarcasm> term for how effeminate I behaved . At least one I grew up later I figured out how wrong he was, and how he was using the term incorrectly, at least from my research online. I won’t read the actual story for my own reasons. Little Lord Fontleroy, seems to have nothing to do with being effeminate, but has been used as a term for a spoiled rich brat (even though the story doesn’t sound like it has anything to do with that either).
But it got worse as I grew up. My uncle started using the term “faggot”, “gay” and anything else derogatory he could throw at me. Being my dad’s older brother (a whole bad history there) he even got my dad to join in. That was the worst…that my dad wouldn’t stand up to him and make him stop (my mom would though…one of the reasons were so close now). I figured it out later in life, my father was bullied by him all his life, so I can’t blame him too much…I know how much he probably feared his older brother (Their dad abandoned them when my dad was 4 months old…and I have heard stories of what an asshole he was too).
It seemed like I had no place to escape…I got it at home and school…although not so much at home. Only when my uncle was in town about once a month. Music was really the only way I could escape and feel good about myself. I could sing. The only one in my family that could really sing (my mom could when she was younger, but she lost her singing voice years before me). It was my talent and mine alone. Music became so ingrained to who I am. To this day I can’t be anywhere without music. Like my wife said, “its our coffee in the morning, the only way we feel awake and alive some days”.
But, it got worse at school as I transitioned from the Como School District to the Centennial School District. I no longer had to fear getting beat up every week, but the verbal abuse got worse…I had pranks pulled on me at school, and even more nastier and derogatory remarks thrown my way. I can remember just about every single incident.
What was worse was that I had no friends (except for 1 or at the most 2) all through elementary school and Junior high. It got so bad, that I started believing what they were saying as true. That they saw something in me that I couldn’t see or accept.
It wasn’t until the summer before my Sophomore year in Senior high (we only had 10, 11 and 12 grade in senior high back then) that I finally said to myself, “Fuck it. I am tired of walking through life afraid and alone. If people can’t accept me for who I am, then its their loss. Not mine.”
It was right around that time I got my first best friend (I think it was the catalyst too that really pushed my change in attitude). Rachel Bernin was new to the school. Just some country girl from New Mexico. I think it was God that brought us together…he placed her in the one class I dreaded every year…Gym class. We hit it off that very first day of school. From then on we shared lockers and we were always “out” in gym class and would sit on the side lines and just talk the whole period.
She introduced me to her “lunch table” and I was surrounded by all these beautiful and strong females. Of course this didn’t make it any easier with the males. (I think they were jealous that a nobody like me, got the attention of all these females I was surrounded by). But I didn’t care. I had a whole table of friends who would back me up.
I even met my first girl friend at that table. A senior no less. Tania was a very strong and stubborn woman. She asked me to the prom and we started hanging out every day at her house after school (she lived in St. Paul). To this day my dad and her family are still great friends.
Having a new best friend and a new girl friend and a gaggle of ladies that I could call friends started the change in my attitude.
I started wearing the clothes I wanted to wear, no more baggy sweats. I started trying different things with my hair, I grew a goatee, I changed up my glasses. I loved the way I looked and I loved the feel and confidence I had when I knew that I looked good.
I even started standing up for myself. The one incident that stands out is when I was walking down the hallway and would pass my main “nemesis’ locker. I remember switching my attache case from my right shoulder to my left so that it would be closer to his side and he opened his mouth to say something and I swung that book-ladden bag up and whacked him. It felt so good. It was even better, because his friends were all right there too.
I started gaining more friends then too. Either a connection was made from the lunch table or the “coffee clutch” group that hung out at the table in the morning for breakfast (Rachel, Kelly, Josh, Amber, Corrine, Shaun, Mandy, Jenfur, David, Saundra, Angie, Bubba and so many more) or people who disliked me were “forced” to work with me on project and they came to find out that I wasn’t so bad (I won’t name them, because I don’t think they realized now that they weren’t very nice to me at first…but we did become friends near the end of the school term.)
But even though its gotten much better in my adulthood (almost down to no bullying) it still happens. I still get jokes from family members who think their being funny, but don’t realize that it still hurts. I get comments whenever I would go out to Karaoke and sing. (Image the scene: a big guy, goes up to sing and this high-pitched voice comes out…)
So you can see above that I have had my share of bullying. It hurts me to see when it happens to my children. I spring into action and want to do something to protect them.
So I was glad to find out that Centennial adopted a Zero-Tolerance Police on bullying. But I realized very quickly that a policy like that doesn’t always work. (Although it will catch most of it.) The part I fear is the “victims” getting in trouble for standing up for themselves.
For instance, a few weeks ago one of my children was at school with their best friend and three other kids playing at recess. Two of the kids were bullying and dominating the game by changing the rules and forcing everyone else to abide by them so “they” would always win.
My child had enough and they stopped playing, along with their friend. The third kid followed them. My child turned to their bestie and said, “If they are going to be mean to us, then I am not going to play with them any more.” The third kid ran and told the other two, who told the teacher and my child got in trouble for bullying. (The other two kids then got in trouble for dominating the game too).
But that bothered me. My child stood up for themselves and reaffirmed exactly what we told them to do. If someone is treating you badly, leave the situation, and if its really bad, tell a teacher. They made a statement of fact. “I will not play with people who are mean to me.” Yet they got in trouble for that.
How is that bullying? How is standing up for yourself and saying, “I’m am not going to take this kind of treatment,” Bullying someone else? I just don’t see it. Maybe because I was a victim too? Am I being biased?
I agree with a zero-tolerance policy. But I feel that those who are responsible for enforcing the policy need to really look at all the sides and realize who is the victim and who is the bully and commend the victim for “walking away” and removing themselves from the situation and not punish them for doing so.
Some resources on bullying:
(Footnote: I keep re-reading this post because I feel like I built up to a powerful ending with all my story-telling.…and then I lost steam and just cut the end short. Like I had a though or a point I wanted to make…then after all that background story…I lost my train of thought.…hopefully I will find it again and update the post.)