UPDATE: Evan just told me that Jared walked up to him today on the playground. They shook hands. Jared said sorry. Evan said sorry. They went back to playing four square. Why can’t all our friendships be this simple?
My 7 year old son, Evan, got into his first school fight yesterday. Like most school yard fights, it was mostly inconsequential. But it was a rite of passage for me as a father. (Why wasn’t this a rite of passage for him? Well, my son spars all the time — he is a scrappy but budding martial artist at our gym, Dragon’s Den.)
My first reaction, when my wife called, was disappointment and anger. We teach our kids not to fight (note: they’re always fighting each other). We teach self-control and good character. We teach peace. We teach them to be like Jesus. But rather than react, since he was emotional too, I asked him to write me a letter. “We’ll talk when Daddy gets home.” This is what he wrote me:
If Evan is to be believed — and in this case, I do — the boy, Jared, was just your classic bully: a 3rd grader trying to intimidate a little 2nd grader.
(1) The altercation began the day before, on the wiley grounds of the four-square court; Evan tried to tell an adult but Jared, stopped him.
(2) Next day after school, he approaches Evan, “We are not dun fighting,” and jump kicks him. Evan side steps.
(3) My son tries to tell an adult again, the boy stops him, “Your so scared of fighting because you do not wont to get hert baby.”
(4) My son replies, “I do not wont to get in trouble of fighting.”
(5) Jared responds by kicking and attacking Evan.
(6) Evan gets into his fighting stance and engages (according to my wife).
The topic of fighting is hard. Especially if you lean towards non-violence as I do. On one hand, I want my children to grow up to be people of radical peace, not war, aggression, or revenge. On the other hand, no one wants to see their child get hurt. And then of course, there’s the carnal part I share with most dads: If there’s a fight, I want my kid to beat up your kid (admit it, you do). So I knew that the my conversation with him was going to be pretty important. This is what we like to call a “teaching moment.” Through prayer and thought, I stumbled my way through the conversation, but here’s the gist of what I shared with Evan:
- There will always be people like Jared. They have something to prove, you have nothing to prove. Mommy & Daddy already love you. God loves you. And you know who you are.
- I am proud that you used your Kajukenbo (his martial art) for good. You side-stepped, you tried to leave the situation, you tried to reach an adult. You showed wisdom and self-control. That is a sign of good character, not that you are scared (he was more scared of getting in trouble for fighting, than fighting itself). Who you are on the inside is more important than what you can prove on the outside.
- Mommy & Daddy still never want you to fight. But when someone traps you or forces you to fight, we are not there; you are. We trust you to make a good decision.
The conversation was hard. My son is still young enough to be cute, he has these huge Precious Moments eyes and when he shared about being forced to fight, he began tearing up. At that moment, I wanted to hold him. I wanted him to tell me about how he beat that kid up (I never asked, because who won the fight is not actually important).
At the same time, I wanted to train my son to deal with bullies. People make a lot about bullying today; I was bullied as a kid. But as parents and teachers, we need to realize that we’re not there to stop or protect anyone. And rather than only comforting him, I wanted him to learn from this altercation. And I wanted him to learn how to live real life. I wanted him to be respond like Jesus.
And lastly, I struggled but managed to have compassion on Jared. Because, to be perfectly honest, I know my son could totally take him on. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Evan gets beat to a pulp. What a close second? That Jared does. And despite my protective feelings, I don’t really want anyone to get hurt. I resist the zero-sum logic of If someone’s gonna get hurt, better your kid than mine. Violence is never that cut and dry. And I don’t want my son to grow up with that kind of blood (but mostly snot) on his hands. I pray and desire for peace, not just in the abstract, but even on the blacktop.
If your kids have ever gotten into a fight, I would love to hear how you dealt with it. Or if you ever had the chance to go back in time to talk to your younger fighting self, what would you tell him/her?