What can a father say to his over-weight, bullied daughter?
Well, it’s not actually what my father said, it’s what he did.
Rewind back and I am 15 years old and entering my junior year of high school. I am still over-weight. Or more accurately describe, at this point I am obese. I am about 245 pounds and a size 20 women’s clothes.
My journey through school, as some of you may have read in other blog posts here, was nothing less than a torturous experience.
The teasing, taunting, and continued comments assaulted me daily.
It’s the night before school starts: I am living with my dad after my parent’s divorce. I am in my room and my father comes in to remind me that school starts tomorrow and I should probably go to bed. (By the way, he didn’t have to remind me, I was highly aware of what the next day had in store for me.)
He noticed a shift in my presence, my energy. He asked the question, the one I didn’t want to answer, especially to my father:
I could help it, or stop it. The tears came flowing and I moved into “the ugly cry.” I just lost it.
He asked, “What is going on?”
Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I was embarrassed and wanted to keep my pain to myself, but I couldn’t.
“I can’t get on that bus one more time. They are so mean, Dad. They even offer me drugs to lose weight because I am so fat!”
(At 15, I was extremely naïve. A boy actually offered me crystal meth because he knew I wanted to lose weight. For a moment I considered it. If it could end the pain, it just might be worth it. But I decided that drugs wouldn’t fix this problem.)
My father simply said…
“What can I do to help?”
I thought about it. I knew if I got to school, free from the bus experience, I could handle the rest of the bullying throughout the day by going to the bathroom, or pretending to read, or staying late in class. I just couldn’t start another day on the bus being teased.
There was hope on the horizon. I was scheduled to take my driver’s test on October 19th, only a couple of months away.
If my dad could just take me to school in the morning for a couple of months, that would give me a break. At least I could begin my day free from bullying.
The only problem was my father was a night owl. He would stay up till 3am or so and go into work around 10 or 11am. He was NEVER a morning person. Christmas day was a nightmare for me as a child because I had to wait till 10am to open presents!
This is what I said to my dad:
“If you could just give me a ride to school in the morning, I can make it through the rest of the day. I know 6am is early. I’m sorry. I just don’t think I can take it any more. I need help. Just until my birthday, then I will have my license.”
My dad knew I was sincere and felt my desperation.
He simply said, “Ok, I will take you in the mornings.”
I felt a wave of relief. Hope that things were going to be better. Hope that I could get through this experience for another year.
He didn’t lecture me, shame me, tell me that I should “suck it up,” or embarrass me anymore than I already was. It was really hard to share my feeling with my father, but I trusted him.
So my father got up every morning for the next 2 months at 5:30 am to take me to school. He actually made the best of it, joined a gym, and used the time in the morning before work to get fit.
The day after I got my license, my father never woke up at 5:30am again.
Some might say that my father “sheltered” me or didn’t allow me to work through my experience on my own. The truth is my dad knew me: he could feel my pain in the moment. He knew that I would never ask for help if I didn’t need it. He knew that that the solution was inside of me. And he knew how he could support me most.
My father taught me a very valuable lesson that day. Sometimes all we need is someone to ask a simple question: “What can I do to help?”
Check out the previous article in this series: What my mom said when I was bullied. It saved my life.