I Was Bullied

The words flew at me like bullets. Words that I cannot publish on a family blog. Words that hurt. Words that stung. Words that me feel less-than. But ultimately, words that would strengthen and embolden me, having the opposite effect than their users intended.

The year was 1984 or 1985. I was a kid just like any other from any city or town in the U.S. I was in 7th grade. I did pretty well in school. I lived in a happy home with parents who loved me and I was involved in activities. Specifically, I played lots of sports.

But here’s the thing that set me apart from my peers — I also danced. My mother enrolled me in dance classes when I was very young and, in addition to weekly tap, ballet and jazz lessons, I also took voice lessons, gymnastics and became actively involved in community and dinner theater in the area.

As a kid, I thought it was fun. I’ve always been an outgoing person, able to talk to anyone about just about anything with the confidence of a more mature person. Being in front of a crowd rarely intimidated me and performing seemed a natural extension for my personality. But it wasn’t a natural extension for the average 13-year-old. To my peers, it was weird. And as any parent of a teen knows, weird is not good. Weird gets you into trouble. Weird gets you made fun of.

For years I never heard a word about my extracurricular activities from my classmates and teammates but something changed when I hit 7th grade. And unfortunately for me, my name rhymes with a nasty slur for homosexuals. Like my 3-year-old who can make any word or phrase about poop, farts or pee, my peers quickly seized on that nickname and it became an ugly refrain over and over and over again throughout junior high.

For instance, I remember one time when I went to soccer practice after dance class. Inside my gym bag were my soccer cleats and shinguards next to my ballet slippers and tap shoes. I thought nothing of it. That’s how I always carried my stuff. But on this day, for some reason, my “friends” found my dance attire and thought it was hysterical. And they thought mocking me was hysterical to boot. As a naive kid, I was unprepared for the reaction. This was not anything I had ever encountered before and I wasn’t quick enough on my feet — despite all those dance lessons — to deftly handle it. That’s when the taunts and bullying began.

Like anyone who is the victim of bullying, I wanted to call as little attention to myself as possible. I searched for places to be alone and to avoid the bullies and their verbal bullets. I didn’t want to do anything that would give them ammunition to use against me. I also never spoke up about it. My parents didn’t know — at least not from my lips — and my teachers didn’t know, either. There might have been some people in my theater group that I confided in because many of them were outcasts, too. I felt, at times, like a member of that table of freaks at that wedding reception in “The Wedding Singer.”

This wasn’t an easy time in my life and I was embarrassed and ashamed. But I never wanted to let anyone see that it made me upset. I don’t remember any fights or serious threats from the bullies probably because a). I was a tall kid and size is important in these things, b). if the teachers at our Catholic school found out my classmates knew there would be hell (forgive me, Father) to pay and c). these bullies were basically a bunch of blowhards, i.e. all talk and no action.

It got worse in high school because I wasn’t the most self-aware kid and I didn’t obsess about what I wore, what I spoke about or how I sounded. Apparently, I had a high-pitched voice and made it clear about my passion for the arts. Not exactly the wisest thing for a 9th grader at a new school to do when most of the other kids already knew each other. Life certainly has a way of teaching certain lessons to us in a point blank way, doesn’t it?

It dinged my self-confidence — which recalling how much self-confidence I had back then maybe that was a good thing — and made me see the world and my “friends” in a new and unflattering light. It made me hate them and wish them very, very ill will. But thankfully, my problems aren’t solved with violence or malevolence so if any trouble befell them, it would be karmic in nature.

This was my world for the better part of 4 years and coming next week I’ll continue the story with how I survived, what I learned and how I still use those lessons to my advantage 30 years later. In later posts, I’ll explore how parents should address the issue of bullying with their kids and what resources are out there for parents and children struggling with bullying.

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The Beginning
About Happiest Daddy

Two boys, one wife and a ton of material. I live for family and I'm one of the most blessed people you will ever meet.

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