• In elementary school, I wasn’t overly bothered by the physical nature of bullying. What really got under my skin was the hatred in their eyes. Ally Kennelfry*, Jell Ruleimi*, and their leader, Jean Hopenix* – this trio were Holy Rosary’s mean girls in my day. I still remember seeing the disgust in their eyes when I would catch their stare. Following their lead was the class alpha-male, Canon Sooner*. What shocked me the most was when I bumped into them individually – they would be nice all of a sudden. But as soon as they were together their nastiness came out like fireworks. On a few occasions I witnessed how herd behavior manifests itself, when kids turn from observers to participants. The students would feed off of collective hysteria and find themselves as fellow bullies. Thankfully, by the seventh and eighth grade new kids joined our class. As they became new targets, the bullies attention diverted away from me. Maybe puberty had a part to play, as well.
• I had to deal with a lot of anger issues from the many years I spent in that war zone. I had built up many layers of defense, The problem is that the bullied often becomes the bully. I first realized this when my cousin Roman pulled me aside after swim practice one day. I had joined the Burlington YMCA swim team when I was eleven years old. Roman started six months later. He said that the other kids didn’t like me because I was being mean to them. I was shocked to hear that, and it became a turning point in my behavior. I started to be nicer to everyone on the swim team, realizing that I needed to segment my behavior from school.
• Being bullied either makes you stronger, or it can break you down. I often look back at those years and feel that I kept my sanity because I had three sets of friends: Those on the swim team, my Czechoslovakian friends, and then there were the school kids. Since I was only hated at school, I managed to rationalized that the problem wasn’t in me.
• When I watch movies with an antagonist, I often wonder if real life bullies identify with the villain, or with the hero. I have always identified with the hero, even if I have played both sides at different stages in my life.
• We always want our children to be better than us. Some may interpret that to mean success through wealth, fame, or power. But it’s beyond that. I want my boys to be stronger than me. Emotionally, physically, and socially. I want them to survive in this world beyond what I could possibly achieve. I want them to make an impact on their world better than what I achieved. I want to give my boys what my father didn’t – to be their mentor.
• Even with emotional clarity, I always felt limited in my ability to reach the top tiers of success. I revered those that had mentors throughout their lives. I observed how a select few attributed their achievements to a mentor. I never had someone that would sit with me and assess my life and provide continual and persistent guidance. The only times I would be approached directly by a family member was when I was in crisis, or when I had done something horribly wrong. Those times I had been lectured and disciplined. The closest I had to a mentor in those years was my coach, Morris Vaillancourt*, and my girlfriend’s father, Conrad Brown. I respected them immensely – always listening to their words of wisdom, and lessons from life. They were mentors by example and in how they viewed life.
* Morris Vaillancourt, was the coach of the Burlington YMCA Swim Club. He is also a National Coach, Level I and II Clinic Conductor. In 1973 Morris was the Canada Games Coach and also held the position of Chairman of the Ontario Swimming Coaches Association. He has trained over 100 Provincial and National record holders.
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