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A Father's Journal / Lessons on bullying, without the bull

Updated 1:13 pm, Friday, March 21, 2014
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I recently walked through the halls of one of our high schools in town and spotted a large bulletin board with posters, pictures and sayings dedicated to the prevention of bullying.

Two pictures showed what a bully apparently looks like. Both posters portrayed the bully as an adolescent Caucasian male, large, slightly overweight, with short-cropped hair and maybe freckles. The bulletin board seemed to be telling students to eliminate bullying just by finding kids that look like this and expelling them. Maybe send the other kids on a witch hunt to find them. Bullies do not come in any other form.

Every male bully depicted in popular culture looks like that. When I was young, I looked like that. Now, my cropped hair is thinning, and I wear glasses. But when I was young, some people assumed --because I was big -- that I was a bully.

A few years back, I went to a school-sponsored evening program on bullying. The coordinator asked us to close our eyes (I didn't). Then he asked us if our children were ever victims of bullying. I'm guessing a hundred people raised their hands. The coordinator then asked if any of our children -- our precious children -- were bullies. Only one dad raised his hand.

Do the math: that lone kid apparently was bullying hundreds of kids!

Except I know the dad. I know the son. He was not that ambitious a child. Even if he had excellent time-management skills, it would be tough to bully all those kids.

The bell rings. The bully runs out and turns to a stereotypical victim, a skinny kid wearing glasses.

Bully: "Look I'm kind of in a hurry. Mrs. Johansson's class starts any minute. Can you do me a favor? Could bully yourself today?"

Victim: "Not a problem. I'll start off by punching myself in the face a few times, then call myself a name that demeans my masculinity."

Bully takes off running down the hallway but looks back over his shoulder.

Bully: "Thanks, I'll catch you tomorrow."

The dad that raised his hand has a son who actually looks like the kid in the poster. They might have used him as the model. So maybe the stereotype has some truth. When I grew up, I looked like the older brother in "Home Alone," and for a while, I was a bully. I was going through a tough time at home, and I was a head taller than the next kid. Plus, I had the hair. I now sometimes ask people if they are/were bullies, and almost everyone says no. They each tell a story of someone else who was a bully.

When she was a student, my wife was called out by the administration of her school. She was with a group of girls that felt vulnerable. They would often sit in the cafeteria and judge people that they felt were judging them. Others felt they were bullies, and they were reprimanded. That was the first time she even thought of herself as a potential bully. Why? Because she didn't fit the stereotype.

I saw on the Internet a video of an anti-bullying seminar. One of the speakers said something that was offensive to some of the attendees' religion, so they walked out. They had the right to leave. But the speaker got frustrated and started calling them out, then started verbally bullying them from the podium.

Our current president and the one before him, and the one before him, is/was a bully, and we want them to be. Their platform is called the Bully Pulpit. They speak softly and carry a big stick. We spend billions of dollars for a military to intimidate, to get what we want. Sanctions, embargos, and threats are the exact definition of a bully. We are okay with that. As long as he doesn't have a crew cut.

A few weeks after the bullying programI caught up with the dad who had the large son with the close-cropped hair. "You know, I peeked and saw you raise your hand at the bullying night," I said. "Are you worried about your son?"

He gave a sigh. "No," he said, "he's a cupcake. I'm more worried about my daughter."

Time for a new poster.

Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His "A Father's Journal" appears every other Friday.