My son lost his Dad on September 22, 2018. Last week, a kid at school made fun of him for it.
They were working in a group in music class. Just four students in a back part of the room, out of the teacher’s earshot. My son saw an unattended recorder and wondered if someone was missing it. “Does anyone know whose recorder that is?” he wondered aloud. The kids shrugged, almost in unison…all except for one of them.
“It must be your father’s recorder,” a student responded, in a snide tone. “Oh, wait, I forgot. You don’t have a father.”
The student muttered just fifteen words. Fifteen words. But those fifteen words changed the trajectory of my son’s life. They effortlessly seared an indelible mark of pain, humiliation, and horror into his impressionable brain, one still trying to grasp the everyday reality of living without his Dad.
For him, fourth grade will be remembered as the year a classmate deliberately, maliciously, and publicly hurt him for having a deceased father.
Despite unspeakable heartache, my son is an inherently happy kid. He typically comes home and regurgitates his day with the enthusiasm of an overzealous puppy. “Mom, I got a touchdown at recess!” Mom, I ate my whole lunch today.” “Mom, I think I got a 100 on my test!”
That day, he came home from school more subdued. I pressed, firing off my regular succession of afterschool questions, but he didn’t budge. That evening, coincidentally, he saw his grief therapist, and he didn’t divulge anything to him either.
I found out what was chipping away at my son’s disposition the next day, but not from him. Another student heard what was said to my son and knew it was despicable. It upset him so much that he told his mom, and, thankfully, she informed me.
I don’t think I have cried that hard since my mother’s funeral. My best friend serendipitously called me after I found out, and I was inconsolable. I could barely get the words out. The fact that this child chose to go for the jugular and hurt mine in such a cruel way simply gutted me.
I can’t even imagine how devastated my beloved boy was by those fifteen words, though he tries to put on a brave face.
Parents, please teach your kids that some insults are simply off limits. Making fun of someone because he no longer have a father is beyond reprehensible. It reopens wounds that will never close, for grief is a part of him…and he’s only been grieving for a little over one year.
And, while you’re at it, please teach your kids to say something if they hear another child being verbally assaulted. If not for the courage of my son’s friend, I have no idea if this would have ever come to light. My son was worried I would “lose it” if he told me because I love him so much.
He was right.
Teach kindness. Recognize demonstrations of empathy. Reward whistleblowers. Tame mean-spirited kids. Talk about grief. Please.
There are many more children out there who are just like my son, missing a parent they lost. They smile through crippling pain their peers don’t relate to or understand. They compartmentalize the grief that makes them different in an effort to fit in. They dread the Father’s Day/Mother’s Day school projects because they break their hearts.
It’s important we see those kids.
I hope sharing this story spares one of them from the stinging pain we are dealing with tonight.
***I did report this incident to the both the parents of the student and the school, and am working to ensure this never happens again.***