Dealing with bullies is tough.
I was bullied growing up. The culprit was Billy, a kid in my class.
Since then I have learned a valuable lesson. The real villains aren’t in your face Billies, they are backdoor bullies.
What bullies do
As a kid I dreaded school. I knew Billy Rogers would be waiting for me to walk in the class. He loved to sneak by the back of my desk and scratch my neck with his fingernails (out of view of the teacher).
One day, he jabbed a pencil point so deep in my arm that I had to go to the school nurse to have the lead dug out.
Billy’s favorite taunt? I recall the hurtful words to this day, “Fatty, fatty two-by-four, can’t get through the bathroom door.” Often, he’d recruit others to chime in. I was overweight, and Billy made sure I paid for it every day.
I sensed that my father (Chubby) knew about the bullying. He must have felt awful. As a father myself, my sons’ pain is my agony.
One Saturday Chubby finally brought it up. “Greg, the kids are giving you a hard time at school, aren’t they?” (I vividly remember how embarrassed I was. This was not something I wanted to discuss with Dad.)
“Yeah Dad, they tease me sometimes, but it’s no big deal,” I replied. (That was a lie.)
What Chubby did next changed the course of my life. “Greg,” he said sternly, “you need to send a message to every kid in that school. You need to beat up Billy Rogers.”
Beat him up? Like physically? “You want me to beat up Billy Rogers?” I asked in surprise.
“Yes,” answered Chubby. “And you need to do it Monday morning. Skip the bus. I’ll drive you to school before it arrives. You’ll be waiting as the kids unload. When Billy steps off the bus, you’ll hit him in the face, knock him down, keep swinging, and don’t stop until someone pulls you off. It’s important that you do it when the other kids can see.”
“But Dad!” I exclaimed. “I’ll get punished! I’ll be thrown out of school!”
“Don’t worry about it,” Chubby assured. “I’ll take it from there. We’ll go to the principal’s office together. After Monday, Billy will bully you no more.”
Putting a bully in his place
Monday, Chubby and I left the house early. Engine idling, parked in the circular drive in front of Miami Hills Elementary School (Cincinnati, Ohio). I remember watching the ice melt on the hood of the car.
Chubby had given me strict instructions. When Billy stepped off that bus, I was to jump into action.
My fear was beyond comprehension. I could hardly breathe. Why was Dad making me do this? Life was already bad enough.
I remember hoping Billy had overslept, missed the bus or was home sick; anything to keep me from having to do what Chubby demanded.
But soon my nightmare appeared. Bus #12, Billy’s. Mind numb, almost in a trance, I climbed out of Chubby’s car and hurried to the bus door.
The kids started to file out. Then Billy appeared, looking down on me from the top of the steps. His face turned ugly and mean. With a sneer, he said something like, “Hey fat boy, what did ya’ eat so much breakfast you couldn’t waddle fast enough to make the bus?”
That was an egregious mistake. My fear disappeared. Billy stepped off the bus right into my fist. He hit the ground. I jumped on top of him, flailing as hard as I could. The rest is a blur.
I remember kids gathering ‘round, cheering. For me? “Go Hague, get him!” Within seconds, the bus driver jumped down and pulled me off. It was over in a flash.
What are the lessons learned from bullies?
As promised, Dad was right there. He grabbed my hand, ignoring the bus driver. He seemed oblivious to the commotion as he calmly walked me to the principal’s office.
I sat outside for a long time while Dad and the principal exchanged heated words. I could hear Chubby yelling. When my father finally walked out, he told me I would be staying in school that day.
I’ll never forget that the principal walked me to class and let my teacher know it was OK that I was late. She actually apologized to me for what I’d been through.
As I walked to my desk, I remember a girl looked up and smiled. A boy gave me a “good for you” nod. When I sat down, the kid at the next desk whispered, “Way to go, Hague!”
Billy never bothered me again.
Using violence to handle bullies
Did Chubby do the right thing? Politically correct? Probably not in today’s world.
But that was over 50 years ago. My father could see how devastated I was, and the terrible effect bullying had on his son. Politically correct or not, knocking the tar out of Billy ended his bullying and got me respect from my classmates.
I honestly believe that day changed the trajectory of my life.
Biggest lesson I learned from bullies
But this story isn’t meant to be just about the horrible effects of bullying. You’ve heard that before.
Since that day, I’ve come to realize that bullies like Billy aren’t the worst kind. His bullying was obvious, right in my face. It’s those who sneak in a back door that we need to look out for.
Backdoor bullies are people who act like our happiness and well being matter, but in their hearts it’s all about them, not about us.
Backdoor bullies are worse than Billies. They are obscure manipulators, false friends, selfish co-workers, people who act like they care when they don’t care at all. They are also people who say they love you when they only love themselves.
The lesson I learned since beating up Billy? Confront obvious bullies. Eliminate backdoor bullies from your life. They’re the worst kind.
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