“My mother is a lesbian. And that makes me ethnically half-lesbian.”
I’ve always loved that line and figure if I ever get a side job as a stand-up comedian that it will become one of my signature jokes. Thing is, it’s completely true.
Like a lot of kids growing up in the 1970s, I watched my parents get divorced and made necessary life adjustments. And whatever was going on during my happy early childhood, my mother had come to terms truthfully with her own sexuality.
It was something that I figured out on my own by the time I was 15, piecing together quirky memories and anecdotal evidence. And having grown up most of my life from age six on with my dad and stepmother (who I in many ways consider to be my mother), the confirmed suspicion that my mum played for the other team didn’t change my opinion of her. I had been through plenty enough on the playground to let something small like my mother’s gender preference get my pants in a bunch.
Like many things, the experience of learning that is part of who I am, as is life's unconventional script. From this I get my healthy sense of humor about what family in America really is versus what it is supposed to be.
In December a decade ago, the last time I had spent any time with my mother, Marie, I came home to Chicago to host a small New Year’s gathering. Among the guests was my surly and hilarious friend Brian, with whom I’ve tormented the streets of Paris while he derided its citizens just for acting French.
He had asked at one point, “What did you do over Christmas so far?” And upon gathering my response he replied, “Wo... Your mom’s a lesbo? Cool… Can I meet her?”
It was the holiday levity I needed. And it’s just a frame in the usual course of my jokey existence. Like being half-lesbian, being a smart ass and having smart ass friends is a major part of who I am. Let the jokes keep coming.
Likewise, part of who I am today is the bullied child of my yesteryear. It wasn’t because I am half-lesbian that I was bullied from 2nd Grade on. But like many kids of divorce, my self-esteem suffered. I took the split of my parents personally, and took everything on the playground personally too. As a result, my demeanor –that of a skinny, worried little kid--- made me a target for others.
That's not to say I deserved it or asked to be bullied. Yet, being bullied was part of life for me. And I expect the same for my own kid.
In the Karate Kid, "Sweep the Leg" Johnny was a jerk. His dojo master was even worse. Daniel-san won by the way.
As a parent of a very persuasive 6 year old, I try my best to set reasonable expectations about life as I know it. He might get bullied for having glasses, being small, or for making Yoda sounds during recess instead of playing ball.
Regardless, I try to help him realize (as much as makes sense for a small kid) that life isn’t pleasant all of the time. Life comes with problems, and what little kid-like problems he has –whether it’s a bully at a backyard barbeque or that fact that he wants to stay up until 10pm—we talk about them and deal with these problems as they come. If anything the burden rests on parents, not only to be vigilant but to talk with their own kids.
I’m not saying suck it up and telling kids to take being bullied lying down. But it’s about time for parents to take a little responsibility and see life as real life. You can’t edit your child’s life like a TV afterschool special.
Put in a different perspective: How good of a film would the classic A Christmas Story be without the snowball-in-the-face scene? That’s when Ralphie goes apeshit on the neighborhood bully, Scut Farkas. In the film even the department store Santa was kind of a bully.
You can even buy a commemorative figurine of Ralphie's triumph.
Had the brilliant writers of this film never been pushed around the playground or picked last in kickball, chances are that A Christmas Story never would have been made. Worse yet, we'd be stuck instead with 24-hour TBS marathons of Tyler Perry in drag and Madea's Christmas Part 6.
For me, if I had a perfect existence as a child I probably never would have thought twice to question it. I might never have taken any risks. And never would have learned to see the humor in a bad situation. I venture to say had I not been bullied I would have ended up being pretty boring.
It’s safe to say that bullies –despite their wholly negative intentions—can have a positive effect on us. Sometimes their aggressive, slimy tactics bring out the best in us too. So, next time you punch a bully in the nose, make sure to thank him.
Andy Frye once got bullied and “beat up” by a girl, and lived to tell about it. Follow on Twitter at @MySportsComplex.