Sunday, May 26, 2013

Where Have You Gone, Burt Roseman ?

I guess you could have called Steven Roseman a friend of mine.  We were 7 years old.  We played with the same group of neighborhood kids and we attended the same elementary school.  Our families were friendly with each other, our moms chatting for hours in front of our apartment buildings at a time when people were not forever rushing off to do something else.  But Steven was the type of kid who cried easily; he spoke in a whine, ran awkwardly, and if you had last pick when choosing sides for sports and you got stuck with Steven, the result was a foregone conclusion.  And then he’d whine some more.

So I hit him.

I cannot say how many times I hit Steven over the course of our friendship.  It was after all, some time ago.  And other than hitting Steven, I was not a bad kid.  My teachers loved me. I got excellent grades in school.  I was funny and I amused my friends and my family with my quick wit and charm.  In fact, I was a good kid.  But sometimes when Steven and I were together and he was acting in an annoying manner, I felt like something had to be done.

So I hit him.

Never in the face, mind you.  It was usually on the shoulder or back.  Once however, I gave him a good punch in the belly.  That was quite the show stopper.  Steven dropped his school books and ran upstairs to his apartment sobbing uncontrollably.  I had wondered if I had gone too far.  I couldn’t just go home because Steven’s books lay on the ground.  The honorable thing for me to do was to wait for Steven to come back down and retrieve his books.  I would tell him I was sorry and that would be that.

But Steven didn’t come back down.

Instead, his father Burt did.  And before I could apologize for what I did and before I could hand him Steven’s books, Burt grabbed me tightly by my shirt and pushed me against the wall.  He then lowered his head and tobacco breath to my level to ensure that I heard and smelled every word that he was about to say.  Our noses almost touched as he spoke forcefully.  “Listen to me and listen to me good, you piece of garbage,” he said deliberately as his face grew redder. “If you ever touch Steven again… hell, if you ever talk to him again, I will put you through this wall.  Do you understand?” Words were not an option to a child frozen in fear, so I just nodded yes.  Satisfied, Burt loosened his grip and walked back into the apartment building.

I can honestly say that this incident was one of the most frightening of my entire life.  I can also honestly say that as time goes by, Burt Roseman has made a tremendous impact on me as both a child and a parent.  As a child, whenever I saw Steven walking down the street from that point on, it was me who crossed the street to avoid a confrontation.  I was fearful that Steven would say hi to me and I would respond hi back thus setting the wheels in motion for Burt to keep his promise to me by putting me through a wall. 

As a parent, I admire the fact that he put an end to a situation and made his child feel safe.  And while I am fully aware that Burt’s actions today would likely get him arrested and even jailed, he stopped the bullying of his child.  I thought of Burt several years ago when one of my sons came home after taking a punch to the head from a neighborhood punk.  (I guess the rules had changed regarding punches to the head).  I found out the name and address of the kid and was about to pay a visit.  However Janice wisely convinced me that the phone was the proper route to go given my rage at the situation.     

On the phone, the kid’s mom was apologetic.  Channeling my inner Burt, I told her to take her apology and shove it and instead convince me why I shouldn’t go down to the police station to file an assault report.  After listening to her plead for understanding, I told her that I documented the situation and I needed her to know that if her son came anywhere near mine, I would file a police report.  I told her that if any of her sons’ friends came near my son, I would file a police report.  I told her that if my son happened to trip over his own two feet during the course of the day, I would be filing a police report and I would also be reporting the incident to his current school principal as well as the principal of the prestigious private school to which he was applying.  

 Thank you, Burt Roseman, you inspired me.

This week, I read in the newspaper about Gabrielle Molina, a 12 year old Queens Girl who hanged herself in her bedroom.  She was teased by her classmates who called her a slut, mocked her for her failures with boys and even teased her for her choices in music.  She was beaten up by her former best friend, in an incident that was taped and posted to YouTube.   She was a pretty, sweet young girl and now she was dead.

I do not know her tormentors because they are minors and cannot have their names mentioned in the media.  Perhaps they did not consider themselves to be bad kids either.  But an unspeakable tragedy happened as a result of their actions. 

And today, the arsenal of weapons available to tormentors has grown far beyond a punch in the head.  E-Mail,YouTube, and Facebook, are the new tools of bullies.  They have even enlisted a new class of bully, the types that are not physical with their assaults, but who have words that live and hurt forever at their disposal.  With cyber-bullying, they can carry out their assaults any time of the day or night in the safety of their own homes.

I wonder what would Burt Roseman do now? 

I don’t think he would be threatening to put kids through walls.  That was part of another era.  I like to think Burt would have adapted.  He would be visiting the homes of bullies and laying down the law with their parents.  I think he would call the police and he would visit teachers, and principals and school boards.  He would enlist the help of other parents to put rules and legislation in place that would seek to prevent bullying.

And I think Burt would appeal to the parents of good kids.  I think he would beg them to be on top of their kids to ensure that they were not acting in a bullying fashion with their hands, their mouths, or their on-line behaviors.  I think Burt Roseman would see how bullying has escalated in recent years and would be shocked.  As parents, educators, legislators, and kids, we need to be shocked as well and be vigilant in ensuring that our good kids are not participating in behaviors that can have consequences which are far more catastrophic than a punch in the belly ever was.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Len,

    Great post. I was initially frustrated with your saying that you were a good kid while revealing your own bullying, but if I reflect on my experiences growing up, I certainly thought I was a good kid but no saint. Kudos for being honest.