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Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Playground

The second week of January brought me to the end of a 22-year career. I’ve now embarked on a new adventure with many different opportunities ahead of me. Before settling into a new career I’ve decided to take a few months to explore and maybe even indulge myself a little. One thing is a new dog. It’s been almost two years since Duffy died and this temporary time of unemployment has given me the opportunity to train a new dog. Her name’s Lyndy, a perfect little Brittany.

We have a bit of a routine happening. Up early and around the block. Breakfast, a few TV shows and the newspaper. Then it’s the leash-free zone at the bottom of the street; right on the lake. As you can imagine, it’s a very popular spot. As far as the dog world goes it’s quite cosmopolitan, diverse. For those of you unfamiliar with the dog world it’s like visiting the playground with a bunch of preschool kids in a multicultural, multiracial community.

On yesterday’s visit our little Brittany took up with a little Cocker Spaniel. A lot of chasing, bouncing off each other and back to the chase. They were then joined by a Husky. First it chased the little Cocker Spaniel, biting as it caught the smaller dog which then emitted a high pitched yelp. The Husky then proceeded to chase Lyndy. When catching her, she also emitted a high pitched yelp, obviously in pain. When I confronted the owner of the Husky I was met with a bit of an obtuse attitude. His dog had not hurt mine or the previous dog, it was simply playing, being a dog. I replied to him that if his dog continued to play in such a manner and hurt another dog that his dog would get hurt. Maybe not the most responsible reaction, but never the less, someone in the park needed to tell him that.

Years ago, as a parent, I witnessed such behavior on many occasions in the playground. Many years ago, as a child, I also witnessed this type of behavior, sometimes being the one getting hurt.

On a June morning in 2000 the lead news story in the GTA was that of a murder-suicide. It was both shocking and depressing. What was most depressing about the story though was that in reality it was not that shocking at all.

On the morning of June 20th, 2000, Ralph Hadley dragged his estranged wife from her home. She was naked and clutching their infant son. Neighbors managed to secure the child before Ralph, wielding a pistol, dragged her back into the house. Moments later there were two shots fired. Ralph had murdered Gillian and then turned the gun on himself.

A number of great tragedies occurred that morning: two people lost their lives and a small child lost his parents. But maybe the greatest tragedy of all was that Ralph’s actions might never have come to be had more attention been paid to his behavior on the playground.

I met Ralph when we were both ten years old. My first recollection of him was tearing around the monkey bars. He was fast and not afraid of much, not much except the bigger kids. That was the summer after grade four. Later we were in grade five together. We talked with each other and we played on occasion as school boys do. He was always friendly to me and polite, and on one occasion I recall that he introduced his dad to mine at a Boy Scouts’ father-son banquette.

But Ralph Hadley had a very short and very bad temper. Ralph Hadley picked on the little kids too. Ralph was a bully.

Teachers, students and parents alike were all well aware of Ralph’s behavior and mean streak, his short fuse. The little kids were especially aware that if things didn’t go Ralph’s way someone might get hurt.

Was Ralph’s behavior ever addressed? Probably. Was Ralph ever reprimanded for his bullying? I know he was, I witnessed it. But Ralph continued his bullying throughout junior school. The root to Ralph’s bullying though was never addressed, and the bullying was never addressed seriously. Had it been Ralph would never have shot Gillian in the head.

Sometimes when one parent brings to the attention of another their child’s aberrant behavior, well, sometimes that parent should listen. The sooner the child’s behavior is addressed, corrected and maybe even the cause treated, the sooner that child will become socially accepted by its peers and eventually grow up to be a contributing and responsible member of society.

When I heard the news that fateful June morning I was shocked at the violence but not necessarily the actual event. Deep in my mind Ralph was fully capable of the act and in some way it was predictable.

We as a society failed Ralph as a child. Had he been properly reprimanded for his behavior, had that behavior been fully addressed and the cause for it sought out, these tragedies might very well have been avoided.

Pay attention to your children’s actions, to the unsocial behaviors they will sometimes display. Quite often their peers will correct them in the way they react with each other. Sometimes though we as parents need to uncover the reasons our kids act in a certain way.

Sometimes dogs aren’t just being dogs, and sometimes boys are not just being boys.

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