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Schoolground Bullies: A Commentary

By Tom Dodge

Dallas, TX – Our grandson, a sensitive, intellectual little boy, begins school soon, and my concern is that he may be as bewildered as I was at the chest-pounding bluster of all the little boys whose dads have trained them to fight. Of course, public school has never been a place for sissies. Children, especially boys with rough dads and with siblings at home, have already developed their turf war expertise and come in with their dukes up.

After all these years, I remember my first day at Santa Fe Elementary in Cleburne. A boy who had an older brother and sister pushed me away from the water fountain. I had no dad or siblings and therefore no skill in these matters. After a few times of this, however, I began to get into touch with my instincts. Eventually I stood my ground against another boy. He muscled me out of line, and I dough-popped him. Blood from his nose and a lot of howling got involved, as I recall.

These incidents of self-defense occurred periodically throughout my school years and into the military. My lifetime record stands at six wins, two losses (in which times I obeyed Shakespeare's advice on discretion being the better part of valor, and withdrew - oh the ignominy!). There was one very memorable stand-off.

I relate this latter incident for no other reason than to illustrate Carl Sandburg's theory that, "If you hate a man, let him live. You may live to see him suffer." The basis for their attack is to this day unclear to me, but these three high school boys, all older than I, were very angry with me. So on the school ground, with lots of classmates watching, they assailed me with vocabulary that I have repressed to this day. Whatever it was, I interpreted it as a condemnation of my birth and the horse I rode in on. One assailant was an All-American football player and the other two, I was given to understand, were residents of a part of town they considered superior to mine. I challenged all three to a fight to the death because, after what they had said to me, I was dead already.

I survived these school ground wars, but I'm nevertheless uneasy about little A.J. Dodge. How will he handle all these little boys of today that are all pumped up on World Federation Wrestling, violent videos, and Diaper League Football? Is there enough Ritalin in the world to offset these horrors? Should his dad teach him to box or get him karate lessons? Or, should he be taught the advice of Shakespeare and Sandburg? Which brings me to the payoff of the story of the three high school assailants and Sandburg's advice that if you hate a man let him live because you may live to see him suffer. Well, the All-American boy died ten years later and the other two suffered a fate much worse than death.

Many years later they found themselves sitting in the audience when I was the honored speaker.


Tom Dodge is the author of "Tom Dodge Talks About Texas: Radio Vignettes and Other Observations 1989-1999"