An Amazing Response To A Bully

I’ve written about bullying for a long time. How I was bullied by so many people for much of my life. How my father’s bias against overweight people in general and his sarcastic comments in specific (“You’re gonna be as big as a house” or “Overweight people can’t be beautiful” despite both his wife and son being on the heavy side) helped prevent any sense of my own self-worth from forming. I also want to repeat that my father is NO LONGER that person and each time I bring up things like this, it makes both of us feel extraordinarily guilty, but it’s important information for parents to know and for people to have in order to understand the near-40-year-old I’ve become.

I’m talking about it today because my wife showed me an incredible video. I don’t know how long it’s been around, but I suggest everyone watch it and learn from it. The video is an editorial response by a journalist to a letter she’d received remarking about her weight and how as a person in the public eye, she needs to do a better job of promoting a healthier lifestyle, especially for girls.

As the father of a 20-month-old girl, I will be sure to bookmark this video and show it to her when she’s ready to understand it, both to prevent her from ever becoming a bully and to understand how to respond to a bully.

And as I said, every parent should watch it. I urge you to watch this amazing video

Any Given Sunday Guilt Can Be Your Enemy

First I want to thank everyone for all of the comments from my last blog. I’ve been completely overwhelmed by your kindness, so much so that I’ve been unable to fully address your support. I’ve also been paralyzed, my brain taunting: “How am I gonna top what I last wrote??” I’ve been battling that and simultaneously trying to absorb all the wonderful advice and encouragement. I promise to get back to each of you. For now, I have to write about yesterday even though it doesn’t involve Sienna.

For a few years now, my two oldest, closest friends (one friend, whom I met in 2nd grade, lives in Maryland, the other, whom I met in 6th grade, lives in Florida) and I have annually reunited to go to a Giants game; for perspective purposes, we’re all turning 40 next year. The fourth spot in our reunion quartet has changed over the years for one reason or another. This year I decided to invite another old friend who coincidentally also lives in Maryland. We met in 3rd grade, I think, but we fell out of touch for some years post-college. Thanks in part to Facebook it’s like those lost years never happened.

To give you a little background, this friend of mine had an extremely rough childhood. I witnessed harsh verbal and emotional abuse from his parents that eventually led to psychological damage manifesting itself physically as stress-related seizures in JHS and the sudden development of an allergy array that boggled the mind. His allergies have since abated, but the seizures have followed him into adulthood, through two bad marriages, high pressure jobs, etc. Thankfully he’s happier now than he’s ever been. I was very protective of my friend when we were kids (I still am), always telling my parents about what he went through, but they felt I  exaggerated because knowing his parents, they couldn’t believe some of the things I described most of which they couldn’t have done anything about, but a couple of which directly involved me. I held this grudge against my parents until it was finally resolved in family therapy a few years ago, but it helped establish in me a deep-rooted need to be understood and believed that remains to this day. It’s partly the reason why I write this blog – to be understood.

Anyway, we chose the game in July, but as the day neared, my friend discovered he couldn’t get away Saturday and needed to be at work early Monday morning so he decided to drive up Sunday morning and then drive back right after the game (I thought this was audacious, even nuts, but I deferred because he so wanted to go).

When my friend from Florida arrived on Friday, we happened to meet up with another one of our good friends from elementary school. I mentioned our annual tradition and how our fourth for this year was facing a crazy schedule. I asked if should my friend have to cancel, would he be interested in going to which I got a hearty yes. I thought it was logical to secure a backup just in case, but I never imagined what would unfurl.

Four and a half hours before the game I got a text from my friend saying that he’d had a seizure while driving and totaled his car. He was unhurt, somewhere in New Jersey, and still wanted to go to the game. His closest friends, (two very sweet women whom I’ve met on several occasions) were driving from Maryland and he wanted them to take him to the stadium. Shaken and stunned, I called him and said he was acting crazy, that his health was a hell of a lot more important than a football game, and that he needed to go to a hospital and head home. He was adamant about it, though. He wanted to see us. He’d make the game. He hung up because he needed to talk with an officer.

The women were already on their way. I spoke to one of them and begged her to talk my friend into going home. She said he’d had a rough work week but had been looking forward to the game for a long time, building it up. Because she loves him, as do I, she was naturally scared about his health. We were both on the verge of tears. I had a feeling guilt was involved. He didn’t want to let us down. He didn’t want to see the ticket go to waste. I told her I could get a replacement, that he shouldn’t worry about the ticket. She agreed guilt could very well be raising its insidious head. She’d call him.

As I waited, my facial tic started going (it only appears now when I’m severely anxious). I’d been hit by my own guilt wave: I somehow caused this by enlisting a potential replacement. My friend would hate me if I refused his going to the game. Do I tell my other friend and have him come to the stadium with us just in case? If so, would HE hate me if he wound up stuck in a bar instead of at the game?

Guilt and clinical depression go hand-in-hand. Over the last few years I’ve allowed absurd guilt to slash my rational mind to ribbons. My therapist always tells me guilt is a dangerous emotion when it comes to living with depression. It prevents recovery. It prevents living.

Elaine and my other friends were trying to calm me down, telling me I was being irrational. I tried to listen, but my brain wouldn’t compute. This was somehow my fault via some ridiculous cosmic event.

My friend called back. He’d decided he was too shaken to go and was just going to go home. The truth was he did feel guilty about the ticket and about not seeing us. Through tears I told him I loved him. I said we’d make a plan to visit him, maybe even watch an old Giants game. His health superseded everything. My other friends agreed. We all took turns talking to him, making sure he was ok, telling him not going to the game was the smart move. When he hung up, my emotions collapsed and I started crying in front of Elaine, my friends, and worst of all, Sienna. Elaine took me into another room to hug and soothe me, constantly telling me it wasn’t my fault.

Eventually I settled down and the four of us headed out. We had a good time, but I couldn’t shake the guilt. Several times my friends had to tell me I was being ludicrous. I kept pictured my friend in Maryland curled up, beating himself up because he’d disappointed us and himself. At one point I had to take a walk. It took until the second half to untether myself, to mostly (still not completely) stop the guilt from eating away at this reunion of my closest friends. Although I couldn’t really get into the game, I did manage to joke around and talk and remember how lucky I was to have these people in my life. I also got a text that my friend had made it home safe and sound.

Guilt almost made my friend make a terrible decision that put his health in jeopardy. Meanwhile, my own crazy guilt nearly sucked any enjoyment from seeing my closest friends. Thankfully we both were able to eventually overpower our own irrationality. I fully plan to teach Sienna about the dangers of guilt when she’s older. Further, I will do my best to never use guilt as a weapon (even in a joking manner). I’ve seen more than enough of it in my lifetime. I’ll also make sure she knows I trust and believe her lest she somehow (and I’m sure she will at some point) blow it, but of course, she’ll be able to earn it back. If she tells me about something going on with one of her friends, I’ll believe her and explain whatever options might be available, that I personally don’t have the right to take charge, but she should be there for her friend and encourage her/him to reach out to the proper authority figures be it guidance counselors, social workers, teachers, even police; only if there’s legitimate proof can I act myself.

Now I have two things to look forward to: a soon-to-planned reunion in Maryland and next year’s annual Giants game.


At the Giants/Packers game on 11/17/13 posing with former Giant great, Stephen Baker “The Touchdown Maker”