A Man’s World

Yesterday, Pigpen jumped off the bus and came trudging up the steps to the front door. The first thing he said to me, even before our usual hug, was “I got PUNCHED in the NECK today!” You could tell that he had been keeping this bit of information bottled up inside of him all day long and that it was bubbling it’s way up to the surface, furiously pushing it’s way out. I took him inside and asked, “What? By whom? Why? Did you tell on him? Did you say something to him first? Did you hit him back? Did you get in trouble?” After quite the interrogation, he gave me no information except that he didn’t know why the kid hit him, he didn’t do anything to him first, he didn’t tell on him, didn’t retaliate and didn’t get in trouble. Apparently, nobody saw a thing. I told him we’d sort it all out when Daddy got home.

A few hours later, when B arrived, he took Pigpen into the bedroom and closed the door. I stood outside, listening. He asked the same questions again. He got the same answers. And then Pigpen began to cry. After B had reassured him that everything was going to be okay and that he wasn’t in trouble, I heard him speak the words I have been dreading since I found out that my destiny involved three sons.

“Pigpen, listen to me. This is important. If anyone ever hurts you again, you don’t just stand there and do nothing. You hit back. You make sure that people know that they can’t mess with you, that you won’t put up with that. You need to defend yourself.”

And then Pigpen’s little voice saying “But then I’ll get in trouble!”

“Well you won’t get in trouble with me. And if they punish you at school, I will come to school and talk to the teachers and the principal personally. You don’t worry about that part.”

I’ve known this was a conversation that was going to happen eventually. It’s one of the few things that B and I completely disagree on when it comes to parenting. In my opinion, retaliation with fists is the pussy way out. It doesn’t take any talent to get pissed off and hit someone back. It takes self control and integrity to walk away or find another solution. And yet, B can still vividly remember being 7 years old and being beat on by classmates. He remembers not fighting back, hearing his Dad’s voice inside his head, scaring him into submission. He maintains that his weakness and refusal to stand up for himself set an image in stone, and all through his school years, he was never respected.

We debated it again last night. His new argument is that “most boys will fight and be friends afterwards.” He says that “it’s a man’s world out there and sometimes, this is how problems between men get solved.”

I can see where he’s coming from. I don’t want my kid getting hurt. I certainly don’t want some big bully walking up to my sweet little angel on the playground and punching him in the neck for no reason at all. In fact, all I want to do is march out there during recess and grab that little fuck by the collar and shake the fear of God into him. But somewhere deep inside, I know that teaching my children about non-violent communication and problem solving is what is right. It’s something that will set them up for the challenges and fear and pain and hurdles of life. And so, after B’s lecture I stand there and look my boy’s in the eyes and I say, “But if you ask me, a bully isn’t worth your time and energy. Show him how little his actions mean to you by walking away.” They look at me and roll their eyes. At least I’ve said my piece and can go to bed with a clear conscience.

What do the rest of you think? To retaliate in self defense or not?

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6 Responses to “A Man’s World”


  1. 1 Nikolai December 21, 2006 at 6:12 pm

    Okay, this is a tough situation for your husband. He was made to feel small by people at school, and he is living out the fantasy of beating them up through your little boy. I feel for him, it’s horrible to feel immasculated and small.

    However, violence is not how civilised human beings solve their problems. In my experience, the brain and the pen is almost always, eventually, mightier than the sword. Violence is a last refuge of the defeated, in most cases.

    Of course, sometimes violence can be necessary, in self-defence. If someone attacked me in the street, clearly I would defend myself in whatever way was necessary, but no more than that. If Adolf Hitler starts a war, you don’t lay down the let the Nazis take over your country, you make sacrifices, including the sacrifice of circumventing diplomacy and the rule of law and resorting to violence. You need to tell your children this, in my opinion, that they shouldn’t be doormats, that if there is no other option, using physical force is okay to defend themselves.

    But violence is not the way problems get solved in life. It only leads to more. That is why we have structures such as police forces, the National Guard, justice systems, governmental organisations etc – to arbitrate and solve problems in a civilised and grown up way. If someone does something bad to you, you don’t go and do something bad to them, you tell the police about it and charge them with a crime. In school, you have analogs of these systems. Teachers are the police. The headmaster is the courts system. Parents can be your advocates or lawyers. Children need to learn how to use these sorts of systems to get justice and to feel secure – because that will teach them how grown-ups solve issues.

    I fought in school sometimes, and rightly got into trouble. All of my fights were by mutual consent, I never picked on anyone smaller than me – and if I was bullied, I reported it. And my mother never defended me for aggression, she always told me that there was a better way to solve disagreements. Bullying is best dealt with by reporting it. Disagreements between peers are best dealt with through dialogue and diplomacy.

    That’s not to say I don’t have the beating heart of a man. I do. But the test of a man is not how savagely he gives into his aggression, but how well he controls it. A man’s character is judged not by how aggressively he explodes and loses control, but by how well he keeps it and rises above his baser instinct. True male strength is found not in physical combat, but in discipline, loyalty, pride, self-esteem, forgiveness, kindness, and expressing emotion. A weak man fights, and a strong man crys. A weak man takes revenge, a strong man seeks forgiveness.

    “IF you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
    If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
    If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
    Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

    If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
    If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;
    If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
    Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

    If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
    And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
    If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
    And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

    If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    ‘ Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
    if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
    If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
    Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!”

  2. 2 O December 21, 2006 at 6:21 pm

    Hey, remember back in HS when I was in Judo, and got my black belt… I remember a Sr wanted to fight me, for no reason that I knew, and we were in High School! I didn’t even know her, but she was pissed and I was the nearest person to her, and then someone said to her that I have a black belt and she shouldn’t. I can remember shrugging it off and laughing at the time, thanking the lord that I had joined the HS judo club. She would have kicked my ass, but at least I would have had a fighting chance of defending myself… but the other thing about martial arts is that they teach you not to fight, to avoid fights, better to run. So maybe if you enroll pigpen into a class then he’ll learn how to fight, which would appease B but then learn the ways of being the better person and walking away. Either way, even now I’m so grateful I know something about self defense. good luck- o

  3. 3 neil December 21, 2006 at 8:41 pm

    I think your both right. One should always look to solve problems/conflicts without resorting to violence…but sometimes it’s a necessary evil. I was a ‘fighter’ back in my elementary school days, but it was more of a ‘boys will be boys’ type attitude…rival friends going at it after a rough game of soccer or fighting over a girl or something.

    However, I’ve also had experience with bullies and the paralyzing fear that can take over when you feel like you can’t walk away…and you can’t fight back (because they’re older, bigger and stronger). I’ve also been jumped by 4 guys for drunkenly mouthing off to them a week before…and instead of being understanding and compassionate, my father was embarrassed because the 4 dudes were younger than I was and thus not as big as I was. Nevermind the fact that it was 4 on 1 or the fact that 2 of my buddies just stood there and watched as I got my head kicked in. I’ll never forget the feeling of shame I had…

    So, I understand your desire to have your child grow up and know that violence isn’t the answer…to be ‘bigger’ than fighting back…but your husband is also right to want to instill some confidence and (sorry) manliness in him as well. As a male of the species, there are certain traits and qualities that society in general demands we have…he can still choose to deal with it his own way, and may choose the right way…but he should be given all the tools that’ll help him as he gets older. Boys and conflict just go hand in hand.

  4. 4 J December 21, 2006 at 10:48 pm

    O.k. I personally think that there are 3 rules that every young boy must be taught if you want them to grow up to be balanced, strong, independent young men of intergrity:

    1) NEVER RAT – teachers try to teach our children to rat out the trouble-makers, but what it really teaches our kids is to be subserviant. I think it’s important to teach children the idea that some alliances are more important than some rules.

    2) DON’T GET PUSHED AROUND – you can fill your kids full of pop pscghology and budism, but when no one is looking on the playground all of that fair-play shit goes down the toilet. Kids don’t understand karma, passive resistance, or why another kid may be angry because his dad doesn’t spend time with him. Kids do understand fear, and violence though, and if you don’t teach your kids to defend themselves they will continue to be victims. Some of growing up means sampling everything on the buffet and deciding which items are the favourites and which items will never be tried again. If your son gets in a few scraps defending himself in an effort to establish his own identity, so be it. The only fight I ever got in was over a girl who was hit over the head with a tennis racket by a boy from another school. I beat the kid’s ass, and I don’t regret doing that to this day. Some things are worth fighting over.

    3) RESPECT EVERYONE UNTIL THEY DISRESPECT YOU – kids today have no respect, yet they demand it from everyone. I think kids should have respect for every other person they come into contact with, until that person proves that s/he is not worthy of that respect.

    Anyway, that’s my take.

  5. 5 ladyareto December 21, 2006 at 11:29 pm

    Hi – cool discussion. Once again, E, my opinion is that every kid should think for themselves. I don’t think there’s anything wrong w/ considering yr options in a heated situation. Maybe you could explain to them that B’s way is one way, yr way is another way – but ultimately they have to make the decision themselves and its good to at least have a grasp of what their options are. It’d probably be even better if you and B could see eye to eye enough to have that discussion together, as a family since they get to see the different options by hearing B say one thing and you say another, but it’s probably confusing as to which to listen to and how they both might be right. Anyway, I’m not a parent, so I know there are subtleties and complications I probably don’t get yet, but my opinion is if you teach them to think for themselves, you avoid some of the disappointment that amounts when 1) they hit back and get their ass beat – so dad was wrong or 2) they walk away and the little shit runs after them and they still get their ass beat – so mom was wrong. Parents are god when we’re young and damn it hurts when they’re wrong.

  6. 6 Missy December 30, 2006 at 2:14 pm

    I tell my kids it’s illegal to hit people. In school, as a kid, you get in trouble for it. In the real world, as an adult, you go to jail for it. The sooner you learn to solve your problems without resorting to violence, the better your life will be all around.

    Also, our school system will have an “alternatives to violence” assembly at the drop of a hat. Any new incidence of bullying that gets reported and the whole “character counts” curriculum gets replayed in all of the classrooms.

    This is the 21st century.

    Also, I agree with O about the martial arts thing. My kids took Tai Kwon Do for a year and they taught non-violence, and how to get away from an attacker. It’s all defensive training.


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