Opening my Facebook feed every day is always an experience. What will the sheep be bleating about today? What celebrity or politician lost their job because they allegedly touched someone inappropriately 48 fucking years ago? What kind of a potato chip is my friend Rick, according to a Buzzfeed quiz? Today – the internet “cause du jour” was a kid who was bullied and made a video “fighting back” one headline read.
This is the world we live in. Fighting back is so loosely defined, violence so widely repudiated, that the term “fighting back” has been used to define a viral video on Facebook. What's next? We all start referring to your mother as a combat veteran because she "waged a war on hunger" by cooking you dinner? You see, when I was kid, yes, all the way back when we rode horses to school and were just learning about things like radios and electricity, fighting back meant something different. Fighting back meant punching that piece of shit who was tormenting you right in his fat fucking face.
That’s not the world we live in anymore. Now, traits that once were celebrated as being inherently “male” are condemned. Your son is sent home from school with recommendations of what doctor to see to address his “aggressive” behavior – and yes, fighting back is done through social media videos and hashtags.
Bullying has existed for as long as humans have walked this earth – actually, for as long as animals have walked this earth. The strong take from the weak. That’s how the world works. Our children are not served by being taught otherwise.
I was bullied – mercilessly tormented for years. I had bad teeth, braces, glasses, even spent some time rocking some killer Forrest Gump leg braces designed to make my legs straight as an arrow. You can imagine how other kids reacted. I was a target – and for a long time, I was an easy target. I was scared to fight back. My dad had to drag me out of the car crying when he dropped me off at school. One day when I was 12 years old, that changed.
My younger brother (just one year behind me) and I were playing basketball at the park with our older brother. A pickup game of football was going on with some kids from the neighborhood and my brother and I asked to join in. Teams were picked and we got going. Despite my braces, glasses etc. I was a pretty decent athlete growing up, as was my younger brother. It wasn’t long before we were running all over these guys, despite the fact many of them were a few years older. It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that regardless of the bullying I received growing up – I always talked a lot of shit. This day was no different and as the score started getting out of control, I made sure the other team knew about it. Then one of the older kids took exception and started in on me, talking about my braces, my glasses, and calling me a lot of names. Like I normally did, I just sort of backed down. The kid was way bigger than me and quite a few years older. For those that know my brothers and me, the next part will also come as no surprise.
My younger brother Matthias, about 11 years old at the time, has always been one of those guys who never saw the value in missing out on a fight. He immediately started in on the kid and told him if he didn’t shut up he was gonna have problems. Again, he was 11 and this kid was easily 15 or older. Eventually the two squared off and my brother smoked him, dropped him right there on the football field and got on top of him and was laying waste to this kid when his friends jumped in and pulled him off – it appeared it was over but apparently the kids just wanted to restart, since things weren’t going well for their buddy. Restarting turned the tide and the older kid began kicking my brother in the face repeatedly – finally leaving him there, beaten – and me watching, ashamed of myself. Your younger brother is not supposed to fight your battles for you. I was such a pussy that I watched my younger brother take a beating, because of me.
That day changed me. I can still see that kid’s foot meeting my brother’s face. I can tell you exactly what he was wearing and exactly how it felt to watch it. It stuck with me – and is still right there in the front of my mind even today. Three months later an older kid was picking on my baby brother at the YMCA, calling him names, telling him where he could and couldn’t swim in the pool. He came to me, almost in tears and told me what was happening. He was an undersized kid and was about 8 years old. This fat-ass punk that was picking on him was my age. I followed him into the locker room, my hands sweating, barely able to breathe because of how nervous I was. I told him that was my younger brother he was picking on, and I was gonna teach him a lesson. He laughed and then I beat the absolute shit out of him.
Every time I slammed the door of a locker on his face while he yelled for help, I saw my brother’s face being kicked in by the kid on the football field. I had never felt so alive in my short life. I’ve never backed down from a fight since that day in the park – that day was a pivotal moment in my life – where I learned that nobody should fight your battles for you and that nobody should be allowed to hurt someone you love. For me, it was my brother fighting back that changed who I was. I may not throw my hands nearly as much as I once did – but the attitude of never letting anyone push you around – is still deeply-rooted in who I am as a person. Many years later, Matthias would tell me, "I remember being in high school and we ran around with different people, and I would hear about guys you had fought or a guy you had beat up and I would think, man, that guy was huge - I'd be scared of him - and I would just think, man, Seth changed a lot."
I've never really shared until today how much he had to do with that change.
When my youngest son was about the same age as I was in the park that day, he endured terrible bullying at his school – to the point where I was talking to school district officials trying to get something done. In the end, my son adopted a similar attitude to mine – and today, he doesn’t deal with any bullying. He is a great wrestler for his school and the last time we had any behavioral issues with him, it was the school notifying me that he had gotten in a fight. Once I learned the particulars (he had slammed a kid to the ground and choked him after the kid had bullied a special needs student and broken his glasses) I bought him ice cream.
Bullying is shitty behavior, and according to most studies, a result of a number of issues that particular kid is dealing with, either at home or in school. Our overly sensitive culture can no longer see the value in simply punching this kid in the face, and instead wants a softer approach. That’s fine for that kid I suppose – he doesn’t have to get smacked around in the schoolyard and humiliated by one of his victims who one day has had enough – but what about the victim? How are the victims of his torment benefitting from this soy-milk approach to the problem? They are not. Standing up to bullies is what serves them – standing up and fighting back, in the real, physical sense of the word, matures a young man or boy. It teaches them valuable life lessons that cannot be learned elsewhere. It readies them for the real world, where participation trophies and coddling do not exist.
I understand how serious a problem bullying is, and the devastating impact it can have on a child and his or her family. I’ve stared into the tear-stained eyes of a friend’s mother who found her son hanging from his bedroom rafters – seeing suicide as the only way to escape his tormentors. I’ve also dealt with a host of adults – who were raised in this coddled environment where violence is never the answer – who cannot deal with their problems because they were always dealt with for them. They are medicated with anti-depressants and walk through life in a drug-induced haze, completely impotent when it comes to addressing any real issue in their life.
Both of those circumstances sadden me - but bullying is never going to go away. It will never stop – no matter how many celebrities use a certain hashtag, no matter how many politicians pledge to “end bullying” – it will never stop being a thing. Strong people will prey on weak people or those who are perceived to be weak. You have to fight back. Not with a video, not with a hashtag, with your fists. This is part of growing up. Stand up for yourself. Stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. Start parenting your children in a way that will help them not make them pussies. Sign them for boxing, wrestling or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. More often than not, the cool, collected aura of a person who knows how to defend themselves, is enough to make an attacker wary. Bullies prey on the weak, so become strong. Stop celebrating the fact you are a victim. Stop being proud of the fact you found a non-violent way to “fight back” – embrace violence. Use it when necessary and pass along your knowledge of it to your children so they can do the same.