Protecting his son from bullies, one father came face-to-face with his own guilt and vulnerability
My son lied to his mother and me, and I carry the weight of guilt. It’s my fault. I made my child a liar. A very convincing liar.
Since the start of first grade this year, we’ve stressed to our six-year-old that if another student is hurting him, whether it be pushing, hitting, scratching, or biting, that he tell a teacher immediately. In his world, overflowing in a compassionate heart, he doesn’t want other children to get into trouble. This became a problem when I discovered earlier this year two bigger kids were bullying him.
Let me first go on the record and say, I’m not exactly a pacifist. If another person intentionally tries to harm you, I believe you have the right to punch him or her in the nose. I’ve been in a fight or two when I was school age. Nevertheless, times have changed.
Today, if someone were to start a fight, and you knocked their dumb ass out, BAM – lawsuit. But let’s be honest, my son is six. He’s the youngest first grader in his class. Is it really worth the risk of punishment?
Back to the bullying…
He never told me about the two kids until I discovered physical evidence. As a parent, you can always tell the difference between a bruise from playing, and a bruise intentionally caused. I asked him why he never said anything. His response, “I didn’t want them to get into trouble.”
To say the least, I was pissed. Not because my son obviously has the biggest heart of anyone I know, but because none of the caregivers, whose only job is to keep these kids safe, were doing their job. I should enter a disclaimer here – this was not happening during the school day while under the care of his teachers and school staff. It was during an after school program of which he only attends twice a week, max.
I had a long talk with him about why it’s important he immediately let his teacher know that someone is hurting him. I let him know how much I love him and that I love how he’s so caring and compassionate, but other children and/or adults cannot touch him. I have no doubt he picked up in the disappointment in my tone. That was my failure as a parent.
Fast forward to the liar that I created. As we were talking in the kitchen just before dinner, I noticed a large, jagged scratch just behind his jaw under his ear.
“Son, where did you get that scratch!?” the concern in my voice could not be hidden. I should have taken a deep breath and controlled the inflection in my voice better.
His eyes widened as he explained that “she” scratched him and he doesn’t know why. “She” didn’t ask if she could play and then she pushed him to the ground and dug her fingernail into his neck and pulled.
Enter super pissed-overprotective-I don’t give a damn if you’re a girl or not-I should tell my son to throw a right hook next time-Dad. But, instead of empathizing with my son, and guiding him through this conversation to get to the bottom of the events that surrounded this scratch, I raised my voice and asked if he told his teacher. This time it was during the school day, and his teacher was responsible for his care.
His first answer was the honest answer, “No.”
A little louder, and definitely frustrated, I respond, “Son, why didn’t you tell your teacher!? We’ve told you…”
At this, his story is all over the place, but the one constant is, “I did tell her, and she said, ‘don’t worry about it.'”
Knowing his teacher, this didn’t sound consistent with past actions, but he had laid out his story of what she said and was sticking to it. Very convincingly sticking to it.
I immediately drafted an email to his teacher. He lingered over my shoulder reading every word as I walked a fine line between asking her awareness and accusing her of allowing my child to get hurt under her watch. The short time I’ve known this young first grade teacher, I’ve come to understand she is extremely nurturing and loves her students. Something didn’t fit, but my son wouldn’t lie to me, right? Not about something as serious as this.
Within minutes, my phone was ringing with the concerned voice of his teacher on the other end of the line. She was blindsided. As suspected, but not wanting to believe that my son would throw her under the bus, our son never approached her. He had never told her that anyone had scratched him.
The surprise in her voice was all the evidence I needed to prove her innocence. Her testimony had condemned our son to a fate that would surely devastate him as he learned of our disappointment.
Upon hanging up with his teacher, his mother and I summoned him to our bedroom. This was a place where there would be no distraction and we would have his full attention. His cries and pleas for us to believe him were very convincing. My heart broke as he looked at me, tears streaming down his face and cried, “Please believe me, Daddy!”
This night was to be our family night. It’s the one night of the week that we gather on the couch with popcorn and M&Ms and watch a movie together. The kids look forward to it all week, because other than cartoons in the morning while eating breakfast before school, there’s not a lot of TV watching in our home. Our son would not be joining us on this occasion.
We escorted him, still pleading for a second chance to his room. He continued to beg us to believe him. My heart drug the floor and I couldn’t speak through the lump in my throat. My thoughts raced back to the moment in the kitchen when I raised my voice and exposed my disappointment asking why he hadn’t done what we’d asked him to do several times before.
My expression of disappointment had led to him feeling the need to lie. He wanted to protect my emotions. His compassionate heart was attempting to salvage his father’s feelings.
He lay in his bed sobbing and expressing his grief for several minutes after I had tucked him in. Between deep gasps, he would cry out in the darkness, “Please believe me!”
Finally, after calling out for me, desiring my undivided attention, I entered his room for what would be the last time of the night. His arms outstretched, creating a void that only his Dad’s embrace could fill, I pulled him close.
“I’m sorry, Daddy. I love you, and I’m really, really sorry.”
Though my throat was tight, I was able to tell him that I loved him, I forgave him, and that I trust him. It’s important that he knows I trust him. It’s unfortunate that he believed he had to lie to save me from my own misguided disappointment.
There was a great lesson learned this night. Only, the teacher was put to bed early, crying himself to sleep, wanting nothing more than for his Daddy to not be disappointed.