I wrote Clod Makes A Friend for a lot of reasons. Mostly because I, too, was bullied. Just before 2nd grade, my family moved from Omaha, NE to Kansas City, MO. Our Omaha neighborhood was pretty tight knit. I had friends, had even “married” another six-year-old (yeah, never went through that scared-of-girls stage) and I hated leaving. Once in KC, my parents placed me in a private school where I fortunately met my lifelong friend, Matt. But then, the next year, I migrated to public school, and spent forever struggling to find my place.
The Mean Bullies
I was short, fat, and clumsy. Always the last person to get picked for the kickball team – literally. Our gym coach, Mr. Gentry, suffered from short man syndrome and held it against me, so out of spite he would always pit me against the tall kids for any race. Many of my grade school classmates were kind enough but didn’t understand. I often felt like the odd one out, failing to fit in. I tried, but not always in the best ways. Throughout 3rd grade, I spent so much time in the principal’s office for trying to get noticed by being a class clown, he was on a first name basis with my parents.
Not everyone found my antics funny. Two kids in my fairly swanky neighborhood took it upon themselves to shake me down once in awhile. I became a faster runner. My Green Beret, Drill Sergeant father, who is an amazing person, gave me the skills I needed to defend myself. So, in 6th grade, I finally had enough of the bullying, and pounded one kid in the face. Several times. We both got in trouble, but our bus driver wrote on the pink slip that he deserved it.
It was a win. The confidence, and recognition I got actually carried its way through high school. I showed up Mr. Gentry by running in high school cross country, track, and eventually finishing two marathons. Screw him. One of my high school crushes referred to me as tenacious. It was fitting. I was drum major of the high school marching band, had plenty of friends, and never gave up. The beating that bully deserved helped me move past my insecurities. But I know it’s not always that easy.
The Insecure Bullies
Some bullies are raised by haters to be haters, and honestly deserve that punch in the face. Psychologists may tell you that bullies need help, but a six-year-old trying to survive grade school isn’t a psychologist. Other bullies are just insecure, like another kid I knew, Mike.
I introduced myself to Mike in the junior high locker room. He was a titan compared to little David. Twice as tall, probably three times my weight. I offered to shake his hand like my dad had taught me, and Mike crushed it. Rather than pulling away and crying in the corner, something snapped. I remember shouting, “What’s wrong with you!” and then proceeded to ask him if he knew how to shake hands like a gentleman. It took him off guard, he didn’t know what to do. This tiny, chubby kid was yelling at him in the locker room, and a crowd was gathering. I proceeded to show him how my dad taught me to shake hands, and he conceded. We were buddies for awhile, but parted ways in high school. He surprised me at graduation, reaching out and shaking my hand like a gentleman. “See, I still remember,” he said. That was over 25 years ago and I remember.
I can’t imagine how hard it is to deal with bullies today. So many of them hide behind cell phones and computers. In a way, the bullies of old may have helped shape my character. I found I could face them down, in person. It was sort of like the 80’s movie, “Three O’Clock High”. Things have changed a lot. Bullies are rarely character-building when you can’t face them, they are merely cowards who constantly chisel away at self-esteem.
What I Learned from Bullies
When I wrote “Clod Makes A Friend,” I didn’t write about getting physically bullied. That’s been done and I didn’t feel like I had a different take on that story. I wrote a book about dealing with being bullied by someone that may not be hiding behind a computer, but is protected by his position – in this case, Learn-ed Yugen, his teacher.
Clod is the gentle giant who doesn’t want trouble and hates everything about himself. He’s taller than the other kids, overweight, has jagged teeth and scraggly hair. Clod is pretty insecure, and as a kid, it’s nearly impossible for him to face up to his teacher.
Because Clod is low in the pecking order at school, he also has no friends. When he has the opportunity to make a friend in Ada, it’s tough because he’s socially awkward. Ada is the opposite of Clod. She’s cute, confident, and doesn’t always know what’s socially appropriate. Exactly what he needs in a friend…to get into trouble.
So, not only is “Clod Makes A Friend” a story about bullies you can’t face, it’s about the work involved in making a lifelong friend. A true friend is tough to earn and takes a lot of effort to keep. It can be a challenge when you don’t fit, but it can be done.
I’ve been told by some that I write bad guys that people hate. I think that’s because I’ve dealt with more than a few, and I relate to all of this. Things are different, now. I’m still short, and chubby, and awkward – but I have overflowing buckets of confidence. I’ve learned, the hard way, how to be a good friend. Most friends I’ve kept over the years. I’ve also learned not to care what others think, and that took awhile. Finally, I’ve learned to forgive. Not everyone deserves forgiveness, but some do, and that, too, can be a challenge.
Clod Makes A Friend is also about learning to believe in yourself. That’s not easy to do, especially for people who have been bullied. Whether you’re a child, or an adult, many struggle with this. Even my “bucket of confidence” spills once and awhile. That’s why this book is for everyone, we all have to face our insecurities.
The Point to all of this
It could have been easy to grow up bitter and resentful. But fortunately, I have amazing parents, a great family, and incredible friends. As corny as it sounds, I grew to love and not hate. (Except drivers who tailgate – you can all die.) My challenge writing a novella wasn’t only about telling a story in under a billion words, it was encompassing all of this in ten chapters. From beginning to end, from being ostracized to self-acceptance, the importance of true friends and what it takes to keep them. That’s why I wrote “Clod Makes A Friend,” and I hope reading this book helps others. Writing it certainly helped me.