Interview with Cliff Ashpaugh, author of Josh’s Wall
We hear the heart-rending news reports all too frequently about the consequences of children and teens mercilessly taunting and in some cases, physically harming others as a result of bullying behavior.
So, what causes children, particularly boys, to act out with such violence and aggression? News reports suggest that parental involvement, especially that of fathers, could help solve this crisis. But what if the father-son relationship is the root of the problem?
Read this great interview…
1. Bullying is a big problem in our society. How should bullies be confronted or stopped?
Views on bullying are as wide and varied as those in our political system. Solutions offered include everything from programs to teach children social skills to those that focus on learning how to fight back. Some even think that bullies are helping by enforcing the rules of proper conduct on their victims, and that urging students to be accepting of those who are different is leading to the weakening of America. When thoughtful and responsible people stand up and demand everyone be treated with dignity and respect we will begin to take steps forward as a civilization. It happened in the free speech movement. It happened in the civil rights movement. It happened when we protested the Vietnam war. It can
happen again with bullying.
2. Parents are often times not aware that their own children are bullies. What signs should parents be looking for? Are parents the cause of their kids’ behavior?
In our modern world making life happen on a day to day basis often gets in the way of paying positive attention to our children. There is the job, the house, the meals, the shopping, the homework. Pay attention to your children. Are they being exclusive? Do they continue inappropriate behavior even when told to stop? Are they too concerned with being popular? Do they frequently tease or demonstrate intolerance for others? Do they play extremely aggressive games or hurt animals? If the answers to these questions are generally yes, then you just might have a bully on yours hands.
Parents can be a part of the creation of a bully by being too overbearing/strict as well as by being too permissive. If parents solve problems by yelling at and pushing people then so will their children. If parents are so strict that the child feels no independence, the child’s reaction can be to seek power in other ways like becoming a bully. Children who have no limits at home can become out of control. This could mean a spoiled child pushing around smaller children to get their own way. Again I say, pay positive attention to your child and be the kind of person they can admire.
3. You emphasize the importance of the father-son relationship and how fathers raise their sons to be men. Do fathers perpetuate a culture of violence by encouraging and teaching their kids to fight and to not be “crybabies?”
I modeled Josh’s father after my own departed dad who I loved very much even though he smoked cigarettes like there was no tomorrow, guzzled beer like there was no today, and enjoyed flinging his favorite expression “Shit-fire” around more times than I could ever count. He was also supportive of my endeavors and raised me to believe that anything can be accomplished if you set your mind to it. He entered me into karate when I was having bully problems at school as if that was the only solution. That’s when I discovered that knowing how to fight doesn’t stop the fighting because there’s always going to be somebody around who thinks they’re better than you. Violence begets violence whether it’s passed down from father to son or peer to peer. As far as the crying goes, yes, it was looked down upon in my household, sometimes even punished. The problem is endemic because I doubt my father was unique in that regard.
4. Learning to defend one’s self is important, but is it an appropriate effective strategy for young victims confronted with a bully?
There are many alternatives, all non-violent, and all such paths should be explored before resorting to any form of violence to solve a problem. I didn’t learn this lesson until I entered my later teens when I got into a fist fight with someone who was twice my size. I got in a lucky punch. He fell and smacked his face on the curb, loosing several teeth and breaking his jaw. I sat beside him for many hours in the hospital after he got his jaw wired. That’s when I experienced an epiphany and decided there was enough pain and suffering in this world without me adding to it. We became friends and remained friends until I left for the Air Force.
5. You talk about the revelation children experience when they learn that adults don’t always tell the truth. Should adults be more truthful to kids about the darker aspects of our society’s history, particularly in the classroom?
Education has always had as its goal the creation of a population of citizens that hold the beliefs, knowledge and understandings that foster loyalty to their country. The same can be said of politics and religion. That loyalty is often built on the version of truth that those in power have purposely fashioned. Contrived truths form the basis of the conflicts we see unfolding on the world stage in the Middle East, the Ukraine and even with providing medical care to our own people. The unbiased truths can tumble walls.
6. You were formerly in the Air Force where you worked on nuclear minutemen missile silos. How did you discover your gift for writing?
In the mid-1980s, I used the GI Bill to enter college after I finished my stint in the Air Force and then I flunked my first attempt at Freshman Composition. The problem was I found the class assignments to be boring and became too creative for my professor’s taste. The same papers that he’d given me F’s on I took to another professor who told me that they were A papers. It was too late in the semester to drop the class so I accepted the F and took the class again with a different professor, turned in the same papers as before, and got a B. I also took a creative writing course recommended to me by the second professor. Guess I had something to prove, so I entered some of the stories I wrote into the college writing contest and won a first place award. That was an up yours statement to the professor who flunked me. I’ve been hooked on writing ever since.
Read more about father-son relationships and the making of men in Cliff Ashpaugh’s new book Josh’s Wall.
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