I did not react well the first time someone bullied my daughter.
Let’s be clear — it wasn’t even real bullying. There are some truly harrowing, horrifying stories of children bullying other children out there, and my kid hasn’t experienced ANY of them.
The “bullying” she experienced were pretty average social interactions. Another kid kept taking her toys, someone called her a name. Nothing that would make Dateline, but, even so, as her father, I would find myself getting irrationally angry about each and every slight that other children obliviously heaped onto my sweet little darling.
But I kept it together. I kept my dad rage inside, locked up, and under control.
When my daughter started kindergarten, we quickly became aware that there was a “bully” in her class. Other boys were being punched. Meaner-than-usual names were thrown around. And, in the back of my mind, I could feel my inner-Hulk whispering, “Don’t do it, kid. Don’t even LOOK at my daughter.”
And then it happened. My daughter came home from school one day in tears. The “bully” – OF COURSE it was him – had pushed her down on the playground, pushed her down hard, and, as she started to cry, he laughed at her. He LAUGHED and mocked her and made the experience that much worse.
She’d, of course, told the teacher (she told the teacher about EVERYTHING), but she was nervous. What if he did it again? He was so much bigger than her. What could she do if he targeted her again?
She desperately wanted our help and I — well, there’s no better term for it — I SNAPPED.
I sat down next to my beautiful 4-year-old girl, I put my arm around her, and I told her:
“If he EVER does that again, I want you to look him in his eyes and tell him ‘No one will ever love you.’”
It made total sense to me.
In the age of liability lawyers and zero tolerance policies, physically attacking another kid is a no-win scenario. So I wanted my daughter to assault her attacker EMOTIONALLY. (Also he was like two feet taller than her.)
I wanted her to shred his self-worth. Make the little jerk lose his seemingly endless supply of confidence. Just look him in his dead eyes and let him know that every person in his life realizes what a monster he really is. I wanted her to force him to ask himself, “Is my existence really worth it?”
A simple request, right?
I will say, in retrospect, I am not particularly proud of that moment. I realize that I may have overreacted a tiny bit, but, in all fairness, it was an honest expression on my impotent dad rage at the time.
But what was REALLY telling was the reaction I got from my family.
Now my wife was FURIOUS, but, sure, that was expected. Actually, I think she was so furious that it made it impossible for her to express how actually furious she was in the moment, so, you know, that worked out pretty well for me.
My daughter’s reaction, however, shook me to my core.
She was HORRIFIED.
I thought that she’d be happy that I was on her side. Or maybe emboldened by this new technique to fight back against her nemesis.
Instead, she shot me a look that made it very clear that she’d only encountered one monster that day and his name was “Daddy.”
“I am NOT saying that, Dad,” she said in a withering tone. “He’s just a kid. He’s a human being.”
My disgusting comments had made her find the humanity in her bully. Yes, he was a mean, stinky-faced idiot, but, beneath his cro-magnon-esque skull, even she could tell there was a human brain and heart and soul. And there were just some things that one human should never say to another. For example, that the human being in question would never, ever be capable of being loved, simply because he pushed the wrong girl down at recess one day.
Immediately, in her eyes, the bully was transformed from a cartoonish playground villain into a flawed but worthwhile human being. He had humanity, even if her father, apparently, had none. It was a complex revelation to watch a 4-year-old work out on her own, but she found her own way there, which was remarkable.
And I’m not sure that I’ve ever been prouder of my daughter or more ashamed of myself.
It took a few hours for my daughter to warm back up to me. (It took my wife decidedly longer.) But, in the end, I won her over — probably with ice cream.
Yes, she could now see the monster writhing beneath my surface, but, if I’d taught her anything that day, it was that ANYONE deserves to be loved, even her dumb old dad.More On