When my wife was pregnant with Henry, my oldest, she asked me a question that made me more than a little uncomfortable.
‘Would I rather my kid grew up bullied or a bully?’
It’s one of those questions that doesn’t really have a right answer.
See, I was bullied when I was young*. And, while it wasn’t the horrific, non-stop, multi-platform assault it is these days, it was still enough to get my nose broken several times, shit all over my self-confidence, and make me hate going to school for a good year or two.
*Just for context, this coincided with the year I got braces, glasses, orthopaedic footwear and an undercut. As well as the bullying, it was also an unsurprisingly unsuccessful year with the ladies.
They say getting bullied is character building. And perhaps, in a way, it was. I work in advertising – an industry where your heart and soul frequently gets crushed by far more powerful people. Maybe getting bullied toughened me up to be able to handle the worst they could throw at me?
So, when my wife asked me the bully question, I had two conflicting points of view.
Firstly, what kind of a dad would I be if I answered with the former; that I’d rather my kid get hurt and harassed by whoever today’s equivalent of Rubin is (probably some kid with a shitty name like Asher or Sebastian).
But equally, what kind of dad would I be if I raised my own Rubin? A kid that made others’ lives miserable? A kid that embodied all those douchebag traits that I hated?
The good news is, at four years old, my son is hilarious and sweet and kind. The bad news is, for a brief while, he was a fucking jerk.
Allow me to embarrassingly explain.
At daycare, there’s a decent amount of good-natured rough and tumble. The teachers generally turn a blind eye to it, and fair enough.
But if there’s an actual ‘incident’, by God, you hear about it.
They have to call you. And fill out forms. And explain the ‘situation’. It’s like being brought into a weird police station with tiny multi-coloured chairs and heaps of glitter.
So, about a year back, we started to notice that we were getting a lot of incident reports.
Like, a lot.
And they were always between the Henry and the same kid.
Being a protective dad, I immediately assumed Henry was in the right – that he was getting picked on by some little prick, and was simply defending himself. I was secretly proud that my kid wasn’t taking any shit.
And then we got called into daycare to speak to the other parents.
My wife and I turned up, and, after about thirty seconds of context, realised that this wasn’t a case of self-defence. Henry was being a real dick – a bully.
But that’s not the worst of it. Not even close. The kid he was picking on had dwarfism.
And then the teacher, in an act of complete and utter make-things-fucking-worse-ism, said, “I think Henry likes pushing him because he topples over easily…. which is weird because you’d think he’d have a low centre of gravity.”
I. Shit. You. Not.
I don’t know why, but Karma had delivered me my very own Rubin.
And it sucked.
But it also made me knuckle down and concentrate a lot more on what was going on with him. I started taking note of what he was watching, how I acted around him, what he got frustrated about. I ended up hanging out with him a lot more, which was brilliant on a heap of levels.
And, in the end, he got that being a bully was a real dick move.
He chilled out and got a lot more empathetic.
Sure, he still gets in the occasional scrap. But not quasi-hate crime stuff. Which is progress, right?
So if they say getting bullied is character building, I guess I’d say that maybe being a bully can be character building too… if you have someone that can help you through it.
And who knows? Maybe Rubin got through it too and turned into a top bloke.
I can’t say for sure.
What I can say is, a few years back, I attended a school reunion and took a queasy sense of pleasure in the fact I heard he had lost all his hair and a pinky finger in a weird basketball accident.
Maybe my character needs a bit of a tune-up too.