I watched a documentary called Bully a little over a week ago–if you’re ever looking for a solid reason not to have kids, you should watch it. Essentially what it boils down to is that kids are freaking terrible little creatures. And apparently, they’re getting smarter, or adults are getting dumber, or something. Either way, it’s getting completely out of control. Apparently, kids take to Twitter and Facebook now, and hell, I’m assuming they probably use Snapchat to send little messages like, “Go kill yourself,” and then afterward, it just kind of goes away. And what was worst about it is that these parents have no idea what to do. I’m not saying there’s a clear cut answer–God knows that having children is one area that I am not an expert in. But the difference between these kids’ experiences and mine is that their parents seemed lost as to how to fix it. And I guess there’s not really a sure fire way that works when it comes to your kids and what happens to them at school–I’m sure if there were, a lot of girls I went to high school with wouldn’t have ended up so pregnant by senior year. But my dad had a way of dealing with things–whether I liked it or not. But I didn’t always go home and report my bullying because that would have been all that I talked about, and I really liked to talk, so I had to ration out my topics. Most of the time I only reported general, blatant hate crimes–kind of like when Lindsay used to shake me in first grade or when Andrew tried to give me a haircut by cornering me with scissors. Ironically, the scissors were never going toward my hair, but rather my cheekbones… I like to think it was less about malintent and more about poor execution. But those were the good ol’ days when bullying was pretty basic, and if your kid did things like that to other kids, it basically meant you were just raising a little asshole. But later on, the basics were the least of you worries. hardly on my mind at that point. I found myself in the crux of bullying–that awkward transition between making fun and full blown Internet warfare. Most everything pre-middle school was physically based. No one went out of their way to put me in a category–it was just kids being terrible on the playground. But it was in sixth grade that the big guns were revealed. Sitting in gym class, I was there rocking out my windbreaker pant/jacket combo when Megan Johnson came up and told me, “Josh Davis said you want to give all the boys in the sixth grade a blow job.” At the time, I had no idea what a blow job was–actually, because someone in my house dropped the ball on anatomy, I thought everyone had a penis so any form of sex was Being an inquisitive child, I pretty much went straight to the teacher to ask what a blow job was. Unfortunately, no one would answer my question because, well, it is not on the curriculum to explain those kinds of things to a sixth grader. So eventually I had to take it home and ask my parents, and in doing so, I had to explain why it was that I needed to know. And that was the first of many bully-related blow ups that happened in my house. I think I caught the gist of what a “BJ” was, but it was completely overshadowed by my dad’s reaction to what had happened. Obviously, I didn’t want to go around doing that to anyone in the sixth grade. I wanted enough lunch money to get pizza and corn from the cafeteria on Friday, and I wanted to always be picked to answer questions in Social Studies. Basic–I knew what it meant, and I was good. After my dad left to calm down, my mom tried to explain to me the basics of sex, but she gets just as nervous about intercourse as I do, so eventually she gave up and just decided to give me double mashed potatoes at dinner to compensate for the rest of the sex talk. My dad came back into the room and told me, “Tomorrow, you’re going to go to school and knock the shit out of him.” Negative, Wendell. Contrary to the rest of my family, I’m not a fighter. I don’t think it’s because I ever feared what the pain might feel like or how much trouble I would get into–I think I was primarily concerned about my face. And I was right to think like that because I have a pretty symmetrical face. Later on, I would go to find out that a very small percentage of the world has perfect facial symmetry, so I think I ultimately made the right call.
But that wasn’t enough for Dad because how can you just sit back and let some other kid at school hand out sexual favors on behalf of your son? In retrospect, if one of my dad’s coworkers promised fellatio to all the other gu ys on the construction crew on behalf of my dad, I wouldn’t be too cool with it, either. But with limited options, there wasn’t much to be done. I refused to fight, and I pleaded and pleaded with my parents not to take it to any of the teachers. The teachers couldn’t do anything, or at least that’s what I though. So the next couple years were filled with stories like Josh’s and mine. And they would all lead back to the same conclusion–no intervention: no fighting, no teachers, no nothing. Instead, I would go home and take a sheet of notebook paper and list random people from school: sixteen to be exact. And then I would sit for hours and decide how they would be voted out. That’s right–I madSurvivor charts back home, and every challenge I would win immunity, and then I would be voted winner at the end of every game. By the time I was done with middle school I had about 247 million hypothetical dollars. e fantasy But eventually, the bullying didn’t stop at school. Public access to the Internet was still pretty fresh out of the gate, and one of its earliest contributions to society was AOL Instant Messenger (AIM, lolz). Anyone who was anyone had an AIM screenname (rocketdog485–you’re welcome) and a totally jazzed out away message to accompany it. It didn’t take too long for the guys at school to get ahold of it, and eventually, they started sending me messages over that. They would call me fag and tell me how no one liked me, and eventually, they told me to kill myself. Yikes! And that is where the buck stopped. I made the fatal error of telling my mom about the situation, who then told my dad, who then let everyone in a three mile radius know via uncontrollable yelling, and then it was settled. We were going to have to take a trip over to this kid’s house. Somehow, in my mind, the only thing that seemed worse than being made fun of and having people tell me to kill myself was my dad going over to Matt’s house to have a conversation about it… with him and his dad. And my dad wasn’t really the type to ask for a cup of coffee and sit down in the den and “talk things through.” No, my dad was more the type to show up with a cup of his own coffee, and then throw it in someone’s face. I imagined what would happen–how the cops might be called. And God, what would the people at school say? So, my dad loaded me up in the truck and drove down to this kid’s house. I remember looking over at him–he hadn’t even changed from work. Grease on his jeans and a tee shirt from the work day. Dad’s always been a really hairy guy, so he had this monster sized beard, and his back hair was creeping up the collar of his shirt. At a glance, he kind of looked like an animal–especially when you took his words into consideration on the way there. He was pretty much silent, which is a sure fire sign that he’s about to have a total meltdown. Occasionally, he would nod to himself and mutter something like, “Yep. This is going to get fixed. Tonight.” I was 74% sure that I had shit in the passenger seat, but I didn’t want to say anything because, honestly… who wanted to throw any more gasoline on that flame? We pulled up to Matt’s house and my dad started walking to the door. I stayed in the truck, partially because I had little to no feeling in my legs, partially because I couldn’t stand to see what was going to happen. He stopped about halfway to the door and turned around and stared at me. I knew what he wanted, but I wasn’t going to do it until he told me I had to. “Get out of the truck, you’re coming with me.” Mortified, I made my way to the door–my dad opted to not use the doorbell, but instead just went straight for the full blown bang on the door. Not a little “shave and a haircut” knock, but more like a “YOUR HOUSE IS ON FIRE, YOU SHOULD PROBABLY GET OUT” knock. Eventually, this scrawny looking man in glasses comes to the door–the adult version of what I imagine his kid would have looked like once he stopped pantsing people in the locker room and using the term “fag” so freely in public. He asked if he could help us, and my dad cut right to the chase, “Well, your son has been picking on my son, and it needs to stop.” Of course, his dad very calmly suggested that we go back to the beginning, but there was no time for that. We were here on a mission–a Kirkland mission–and that mission didn’t need to take any more than five or ten really, really terrifying minutes. Eventually, the man called Matt to the door, and there he stood–looking angelic as ever, as if he had just got done brushing the dog or doing homework or something completely unlike himself at school. His dad asked him if he knew who I was. “Yeah, that’s Justin. We’re friends at school.” And that’s when I got angry. Friends at school? Hardly. My friends were the acquaintances that I put on my Survivor alliance at 4:30 when I got home from school. This kid was not my friend. Then his dad asked him one of the stupidest questions that you can ask a kid, “Son, are you making fun of Justin at school and on the Internet?” Oh yes, father. I call him all sorts of names. Names you might not have even heard of! Isn’t it grand? “No, I would never do that.” And that’s when Wendell, formerly known as my dad, took over the conversation. “Don’t stand here and lie to me, you little son of a bitch.” Apparently, in most common suburban neighborhoods, calling a child an SOB is not a readily accepted term of endearment. Then again, SOB is not a term I heard very often back home either–it was usually reserved for our neighbor who would shoot turkeys behind our house and our pet rabbits whenever they would scratch Dad. The kid’s dad looked back at us and said, “I don’t think it’s appropriate to say that,” and then Wendell responded, “Well, I don’t think it’s appropriate for him to tell my son to kill himself online.” And then, because my dad knows how to prepare for a situation, Wendell pulled out a stack of papers–printed out AIM conversation between myself and Matt. The jig was up–Matt had officially been busted. His dad looked at the papers and then down to Matt, and said, “We’re going to have a serious conversation about this, and you’re probably going to be grounded from the computer for a while.” Solid parenting, if I say so myself. But the conversation was not over, because Wendell did not find this a suitable enough warning. I could see those backhairs raising up, like a mountain lion about to pounce. He pointed his finger at Matt and said, “If this ever happens again, I’m going to come back here, and I’m going to beat his ass. And then I’m going to beat your ass for raising him.” And then, he pulled out one of my favorite Wendell Kirkland moves, which I like to call the “Why Haven’t You Said Anything Yet?” After he’s said something like, “I’m going to kick your entire house’s ass,” he gives you about two seconds to process it, then raises his eyebrows and slightly shakes his head, as if you were already supposed to come up with something to say in response. It’s his final way of saying, “I’ve won this battle. You can leave now.” As a teenager, I was the victim of a couple of these responses when I did things like not get up in time for school, or a blatant disregard for cleaning the pool.We got back in the truck and he looked over at me and said, “I think we got that taken care of,” and then Matt never spoke to me again. Before I was out of middle school, we repeated this routine two other times with two other kids. Those kids don’t speak to me either. I think by the time I was a junior in high school, most everyone knew that if you really went after me, my dad would show up at your house and essentially threaten to burn it to the ground. People always said things–bullies never really go away. They just knew when to stop. Looking back on it, Dad’s approach might have saved me from something really bad down the road. Sure, it was pretty ridiculous that your dad would go to your schoolmate’s house and reenact an episode of Maury to get the point across, but every parent has their own way of getting the job done. Eventually, bullying pretty much came to a stop–somewhere near the end of high school. But to this day, if something bad happens at work or if I pass a jerk on the street, I think twice about whether or not I should tell my dad about it, because the last thing I need at this point is for my dad to show up at work to let my boss know who the boss really is.