A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker
Eight-year-old Jonathan reminds me a lot of his father.
There's a good reason for that. I am his father (why do I feel so . . .you know . . . Darth Vader-ish when I say that?).
As a result, I think I've got a pretty good handle on how he thinks, and how he feels (except for the Pokémon thing, which I don't get at all). That's why I believe I can authoritatively say that Jon is not interested in fighting. It's not in his nature. He likes to wrestle and pretend fight and stuff like that-you know, like in pro wrestling-but when the fighting turns serious, Jon turns into a spectator. If he sees a fight, he may stop to watch, but he isn't remotely interested in participating.
Growing up, I was the same way. Mom used to explain it by saying I was "a lover, not a fighter." I think that was her gentle way of saying I was sort of a wimp. And I don't deny the charge, entirely. Of course, it was the 1960s, and I preferred to think of myself as a practicing pacifist, devoted to the principles of non-violence. But deep inside, I knew that mostly I just didn't want to get hurt. And deep inside, I think that's how Jon feels, too.
Which is fine with me. As a parent, I've been trying to teach my children a set of values that includes the admonition to "turn the other cheek" toward someone who "smites you on one cheek." I really believe these values. They're important to me, and I'm pleased beyond words to see my children embracing them and applying them to their own lives- even if right now Jon's primary motivation for being a non-fighter is a desire to avoid pain.
But principles and values are one thing, real bruises on little arms are quite another. And lately, Jon has been coming home with the latter. It seems a fellow second-grader-we'll call him Michael-has been bullying Jon. Since Jon is both big and unwilling to fight, he's the perfect target for a bully. Almost every day, Jon comes home with another story about a painful encounter with Michael. At first we told him to try to turn Michael into a friend. When that didn't work, we tried talking to teachers and school administrators about the problem. They acknowledge that Michael is to blame, but seem to be unable to do anything about it beyond talking to Michael's mother and threatening to put him in school detention whenever he hurts Jon.
That still means that Jon is going to get hurt, and as far as I am concerned, that is unacceptable. So I took my son downstairs and taught him how to defend himself. We had some fun wrestling, and he quickly picked up on what I was trying to teach him. He seems to feel safer and more secure now, because he has been empowered.
But at what cost? Ever since our self-defense session, I've wondered about the conflicting messages I may have given my son. Do we only believe in "turn the other cheek" until someone actually "smites" us? Does having principles mean you have to allow yourself to be abused and taken advantage of? Is it possible to be a peacemaker while tackling a bully and pinning him to the ground? And why is it so easy for me to turn my other cheek, and so hard for me to tell my son to turn his?
To tell you the truth, I'm not sure of all the answers. I just know that Jon is less fearful as he goes to school these days, and that I am moreso. I'm afraid that there will be another confrontation with Michael. I'm afraid that what I taught Jon won't work. But I'm almost more afraid that it will-and that Jon will like it. Will he ever "turn the other cheek" again after that? I know I would have been a different boy if I had been a fighter, not a lover.
And he is, after all, my son.
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--- © Joseph Walker
Look for Joe's book,"How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through www.Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com