Every school day when I was a little kid, my dad used to drop me off on his way to work in the city. I loved those times when I had him all to myself and I could get to work as a junior inquisitor about the things he knew about and I was beginning to learn. Subjects like why Grandma was so incredibly scary, and how he fell in love with Mum, were favourite topics.
When I was in Grade Two, it was his habit to drop me at the Somerset Road gate of St Anthony's, Kedron, near the corner of Turner Road. Apart from the fact that I was mortified by the family car - a black Riley which looked like the car of absolutely no one else's parents – I was thrilled that my handsome father took the trouble to drive me the couple of blocks to school.
So it was a surprise to him when I asked to be deposited at another entrance to the school, one which was further away from my classroom.He was late, and we were almost there, so the plans couldn't change that day. I started to cry, and as soon as he stopped the car, I darted across the footpath and up the steps, streaking past Pius XII in the stairwell and right into the class room. From the car, Dad watched my retreating back and recognised this as abnormal behaviour .
Two days later, Mum and Dad had the truth of it – I was being bullied at the school gate by two big girls, and hadn't been game to tell them, or Sister Mary Monica. On the third day, Dad took me back to the Somerset Street gate, got me out of the car, and asked me to tell him which of the children was being mean to me. Terrified of the reprisal I was certain would follow, I cowered behind him, and pointed out the culprits. You can imagine my shock when, with my hand in his, he approached the pair and engaged them in gentle conversation.
I was shy, he told my little torturers, and was having some problems at school, and they looked like the kind of girls who might be able to help me. Would they? Amazingly, they would. Every morning, those two continued to wait for me at the school gate, waved at Dad as he drove up, then escorted me up to my class room.You never saw a bully picking on any kid they thought was going to beat them, Dad told me… and you could beat them just by refusing to go along with them. It was one of the greatest lessons of my life.
It came in useful when I worked for Kerry Packer, and then went into television, where bullying seemed a normal form of social intercourse. And it is still useful on the discussion boards of CathNews, where sometimes there are still, from time to time, outbreaks of intemperate behaviour.
Regular board correspondents know extra details are now required by CathNews' editorial guidelines from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. (Just to remind you: a real name or real initials, no pseudonyms, a functioning telephone number nfp, and a location.)
So I wrote to one whose details were missing, and referred him to the protocols for commenting, and waited for a location detail and a confirmation of his name which would allow publication. If I had been expecting my requests to be fulfilled, I was disillusioned very smartly by his reply. So I wrote back, still requesting the required details.My correspondent was not happy and told me so: 'Christine, I find your attitude a bullying one - I personally would disqualify you from dealing with the public until you undergo more training, especially as you may be dealing with vulnerable victims of sexual abuse at this time considering what the Bishops are saying at present on this issue.'
Good grief. Refusing to reward this behaviour, I retreated into silence – which is where I remain regarding him. However, for every reader who reacts in such a way, there is constant positive reinforcement from CathNews' readers and subscribers.
I had written to Marie H, a regular board contributor, and asked her if she could not use ampersands in her comments – they play havoc with the formatting. She replied: 'Now that I know, I'll stop using (them). So sorry to have caused you a problem. Especially as you've turned the forums into one of the best centres for discussion, allowing diversity of views but preventing matters from ever turning nasty. Quite an achievement on the Net! Once again, my apologies.'
And I had another, much appreciated piece of support, from Peter, who is a regular as well on the boards, when I wrote to welcome him to the CathNews subscribers: 'Actually I have appreciated CathNews for several years. I just needed to resubscribe when I changed my ISP. Congratulations on your own sensible and courageous handling of mail that is sent to you. God bless the work!'
God bless the work, indeed. And God bless the fathers and mothers who teach their little children lessons which stand them in good stead long after the school yard bullies have been faced down.
Christine Hogan is the Communications Manager of Church Resources
Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.