I am a father, and I was bullied….
I guess I should get this out of the way before I get into it: I’m a dad, and I’m a dad to a wonderful, inquisitive, adventurous, hilarious, nerdy, sassy, delight of a daughter. I have two incredible sisters, and my mother is an amazing woman. Not that I need to have a daughter, sisters, or a good relationship with my mom to know that girls and women are outstanding, capable, complex, and unique people; a woman is more than her familial ties. I do my best to encourage my daughter to follow her interests, no matter what others may think, and that’s resulted in a pet snake, a lesbian flag hanging over her window, her beating some of my video games before I even started them, and green and blue hair, and I couldn’t be happier with how comfortable she is with her identity. When I was about her age, almost exactly, in fact, I was deeply uncomfortable with who I was, largely because of daily bullying by the people I thought of as friends. That contributed to years of low self-esteem, issues with my identity, and a reluctance to fully embrace myself. Today, I’m proud of the person I’ve become, and I’m happy with who I am, and no small part of that process was forgiving my bullies.
I stood up to my bully and ended up alone
The worst of it was in seventh grade. Every morning, a few of us would bike or walk to the friend’s house closest to school. We’d congregate there, maybe play fifteen minutes of video games, just chat, or watch whatever was on tv, then walk the last three blocks to school. There were two primary scapegoats in the group, and I happened to be the primary target. Without getting lost in recalling all the particulars and details of it all, I took the brunt of the abuse, was blamed for things that went wrong, was the target of most of the mockery, and was generally the lowest status in the group. I dealt with this for the better part of a year, until finally, one day, I’d had enough. On the way to school that morning, someone’s insult, though I don’t remember what was said, was the final straw, and I began screaming and crying in rage and frustration, struck several clumsy, ineffective blows, and ran off.
It was near the end of the school year, and, for that summer, and well into the start of eighth grade the following year, I had no friends. Slowly, I made new friends, better friends, and I ended up better for the loss, but not having any friends isn’t easy for a kid just finishing seventh grade or for anyone really.
It took the bully apologizing to finally let go
Years later, more than ten, fewer than twenty, I received a message on Facebook. It was from a member of my former friend group, the one whose house we used to gather at in the mornings. It was a long message, and it was well thought out, possibly even edited beforehand, and sincere. It was a letter apologizing for his part in the bullying, a heartfelt, unasked for, freely given apology, and it meant more than he could know. I responded, and we spoke further, less about the distant past and more about the recent, and I now consider him a friend, twenty years after middle school. I never heard from any other members of the group, save one, who I happened to encounter while out shopping. He’d been the group’s other target, and, though he’d occasionally joined in piling on me, I held no ill will toward him, and we briefly discussed that period, his experience, and what he’d been doing since.
That apology, and the subsequent discussion, helped me to be able to forgive the wrongs of the past, or at least to forget them, to put them behind me and move forward. I had held in that hurt for so long, had internalized so many of those messages, had let that trauma and emotional pain affect and shape me for too long.
I had to let it go if I wanted to be better, to be happier, to like myself more.
It gave me a very strange sort of closure that I’d been missing, and I felt I could release that bit of my past. It helped me to accept that there was nothing inherently wrong with me, nothing inside me that had made me the target of bullying, nothing about who I was, who I am now, to explain why it’d been me. I was not to blame for the actions of my bullies; there was nothing I’d done to deserve it, nothing about me that justified their actions, that they were responsible for their own actions. Processing that, understanding it, and putting it into practice, in the way I view myself, have been huge steps toward self-acceptance.
You need to remember it isn’t your fault
I truly hope nobody who reads this experiences the kind of treatment I did, but, if they do, I hope that reading this helps them accept themselves sooner than I did. I hope they don’t need to wait almost fifteen years to start truly healing from the hurt. Nobody deserves to be bullied, to be taunted, to be mocked and belittled and hurt by others. The victim is not the one at fault, not the one who needs to change or to hide who they are. Being true to yourself, being you, embracing your passions, your interests, your hobbies, your dreams, accepting yourself and living your life the way you want, those aren’t things you need permission from somebody else to do, and nobody should be able to make you feel bad for who you are. Embrace yourself, love yourself, be the person you want to be, and don’t let others make you feel like you need to apologize for existing as you are.