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.)

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