This is a personal story that I shared with my Dad in an email today. This past July, we had a 2 day hiatus in San Francisco before we headed to the Northern California Family Camp and to visit our supporting church in San Francisco.
I spent some of my childhood in San Francisco and was anxious to show them the places where I grew up, learned how to play American sports, and learned some life lessons as well.
Aside from the usual tourist stops, I took Marco to Neil Cummings Elementary School where I attended-- as well as to the homes we used to live in. He found my elementary school very interesting because I took him to see the playground where I was bullied. I had told him that story earlier in the year.
There was a tough boy named Greg who I tripped by accident on the playground. It was an accident, but Greg responded by pushing me, starting a fight, and pushing me down off the playground as a large crowd gathered to watch. I was humiliated.
I got my revenge a couple of years later when Greg and I were put into the same class. There was a tree on the playground where I started the "I Hate Greg Club." The IHGC met during recess in the tree and we were all assigned titles like "President," "Secretary," and "Vice President." I was the "Senator" (even though I was the founder, I preferred the title Senator). When our teacher found out about the IHGC, she was furious at all of us and yelled at me. The IHGC was immediately disbanded.
In the end, Greg and I ended up becoming friends. It turned out he was just a hurting boy who was lonely. Even as kids we could tell his mother was a mess. His parents were divorced and his father grew marijuana in the backyard (Hey, who doesn't in San Francisco? You think the gardens are for flowers?). I shared this story with Marco earlier in the year because last year he had a bully problem all year. I told Marco the story of IHGC to demonstrate how out of my pain and frustration I became a bully too. The point I was making is that sometimes when we are in pain, we find painful ways of acting out. That's what bullies do and that's what we can do as well; even as grown ups. As always, Marco really internalized that story.
Last year, his bully would not let up from September to June. He seemed to be very jealous of Marco. But Marco never hit back and he never lashed out. Instead, when he would get the opportunity to select a reading buddy and he would choose the bully. In many ways, he tried to befriend the bully.
Eventually Marco's friends finally got tired of the bully and by Spring, they started their own little gang against the bully. But Marco wouldn't join. He risked his friendship with his friends to keep reaching out to the bully.
"To be a Christian is to take chances," he said to me as we drove home from school one day.
By the end of the year, he had made friends with the bully. He had won the bully over with kindness. When summer vacation came around, Marco read a note that the bully had written to him.
It said: "To Marco. You are the best friend I've ever had."
Marco's self-restraint paid off. That's character. The hardest thing to come by in life.
The Jesuits have a saying: "Show me the boy at 7 and I'll show you the man."
So that is why I took him to see the tree at Neil Cummings Elementary School in Marin County, California on his summer vacation.
Sometimes the sins of the father are not passed on to the son, and I'm grateful for that.