Why “Happy Birthday Colin” Matters: A Reader Shares Their Story

  • SumoMe


In the dog-lover community, there is a saying: there are no bad dogs, just bad owners. The same applies to bad kids. Kids turn bad because of bad and/or absent parenting.

After spending two decades “in the trenches” as a teacher, I saw first-hand how these bad kids were classroom cancers. They weren’t just distractions; they could also be downright destructive, preying on other students with their abuse.

Many of them were the equivalent of “classroom terrorists.” And where did this behavior come from? It is ridiculous to believe that kids just turn out that way.

I have used my radio show and my newspaper column many times to call out what I call “punk parents,” people who cannot even pass the lowest minimum threshold of parenting. They either instill bad behaviors in their kids or refuse to be relentless and diligent in teaching their kids basic values.

It’s pretty difficult for young kids to have the wisdom to know the difference between right and wrong; that’s what parents are for…supposedly.

happy-birthday-colinLast week I wrote a column in the Philadelphia Daily News about Colin, a 10-year old boy with a behavioral disorder that saw him frequently ostracized by other kids. After declining his mother’s offer of a birthday party “because I have no friends,” Colin’s mom sets up a Happy Birthday Colin Facebook page in the hopes of having a few friends and family posting some encouraging messages to Colin.

Instead of a handful of responses, Colin’s plight struck a nerve and the story went viral. Over 2.1 million people “Liked” the Happy Birthday Colin page. I found it inspiring that so many people would stand up against a kid being ostracized because he was different.

In my Daily News column, I raised the question: what about the parents of Colin’s classmates? How did so many parents fail to teach their kids about basic decency and compassion?

Kudos to Good Morning America for giving Colin the ultimate surprise party

Kudos to Good Morning America for giving Colin the ultimate surprise party

I received many responses to the column. For some, it obviously struck a nerve because they were very defensive. A few heartless and clueless readers told me that the best solution would be for kids like Colin to be in a separate “special school” because it is extremely difficult to ask the other students to accept and tolerate a kid with those type of special needs and challenges.

It is disturbing to know that there are people and parents who feel that way. Which only makes me more determined to call them out on their bad attitudes and bad parenting. And rather than just listen to a former teacher, I want to share a note I received from a Daily News reader in response to my column. As you read the words, you will feel the hurt and pain…and equally important, this reader’s insights are dead-on about the problem of punk parents.


After reading the article about eleven year-old Colin from Richland, Michigan, I was not only riveted to the fact that such a seemingly bright and energetic child, would be so afraid to function in any societal setting, I was immediately reminded that when I was his age, I was the exact same way. I WAS COLIN!!!

While I was not diagnosed with a sensory processing disorder like Colin, I was categorized as socially maladjusted.  This challenge to function began as early as age five.

As a result, I was the last kid picked to play a pickup game of anything, regardless of sport.  Once I discovered my love of hockey, I began to be the FIRST kid picked to stand in goal, as I was unbeatable between the pipes in my neighborhood.

I was among a group of kids my age who didn’t care if I was maladjusted or not. Grade school was a different story, as I was “remanded” to the local Catholic 1-8 school in my section of town.  Here I began to see how differences in classes of people filtered down to the children.

Never harming a fly, or speaking in such a way that would otherwise get my hide kicked, seemed not to matter to the kids who used to chase me and call me names.

Bullying was bullying back then, none of the modern-day clandestine aggressors we see now.  Back then, bullies really beat the snot out of weaker kids, thereby establishing their dominance over the meeker classes.

I never wondered where they learned it-then. It wasn’t until I grew up, physically and emotionally, that I began to see how these very same childhood bullies, became aggressors as adults.

As I’ve grown older still, I am not cynical by nature, nor am I speaking out against poor parenting, but a lot of these same people who used to torture me in my younger years, still think it’s fun to point and laugh at the “weird kid.”

I look back to when we were all much younger, and seemingly much more innocent, and I now see that for as much as I never changed who I was, in terms of my honesty and integrity. Not surprisingly, the schoolyard bullies became barroom bullies-some things never change.  Some have not altered their tack a single iota…ever.

I have several friends with children in local school districts. It has given me a dual opportunity to see what they’ve become, and what some of their children are becoming-carbon copies.  If you hear a parent say “not my kid,” they had better look into a mirror.

If education begins at home, then the root of bullying begins there as well.  Homes are supposed to be the root of all teaching, so if kids are coming to school with the clear intent to “pick on the weird kid,” where are they learning to do that?

Children of parents who subscribe to the mantra “if you’re not winning, you’re losing” are doomed to the same fate, unless they are taught how to treat others properly.  Schoolyard squabbles will always exist, as will some form of class-versus-class aggression. But if a child is labeled as a bully, they had to learn it from somewhere. There is no doubt that at least one of their parents is a bully.  A leopard never changes its spots, and neither does an aggressor.

If it has been written that “the meek shall inherit the Earth,” why then would it seem that only the strong survive?  Is it because the bullies are allowed to hold dominion over the weaker classes?  Is it because of survival of the fittest?

It is also written of “an eye for an eye” mentality, to treat others as you would be treated.  Is that the answer?

The answer is the proper upbringing of every child, by every parent and/or guardian.  If they are taught how to treat others properly, proffering the same dignity and respect they would ask in return, from the beginning, the classes will still exist, but they would exist in a more favorable harmony.

The closing scene in the film “Revenge of the Nerds,” in which the college geeks finally have their day, states simply, “There’s more of us than there are of you.”

You can stand on our shoulders to get where you feel you need to go to succeed, but don’t step on our necks to do it.  Don’t extend a hand to shake mine, while using the other to stab me.  Don’t pay me a compliment with one word, and whisper when you think I can’t hear you to others, just to seem “cool.”  You should have left that on the schoolyard, when you were a child.

I’ll close this post with the same words I offered to Colin from Michigan on Facebook, which should be a barometer for anyone on the receiving end of bullying-never stop being you.


800colinYou can go on Facebook and see the “Happy Birthday, Colin” page. While Colin’s birthday last week had a positive outcome, the larger problem- bad parents turning out bad kids and “classroom terrorists”- will continue to exist.

This is not an issue for schools to fix. Parents are the ones that need to be held ACCOUNTABLE for the actions of their child. Please do me a favor- if you believe this issue is an important one, please “Share” this article with your Facebook friends and other contacts.

It’s time to stand up and fight back against these bullies, classroom cancers and their enablers.

7 Responses to Why “Happy Birthday Colin” Matters: A Reader Shares Their Story

  1. Sylvia March 17, 2014 at 3:02 pm #

    Another great article! I can relate to this on so many levels. Many thanks for bringing our attention to this very worthy cause.

    • Dom March 17, 2014 at 3:06 pm #

      I hope you will share and get the word out, Sylvia. Bad parents do terrible damage not just to their kids, but the students their kids torment.

      • Guido March 17, 2014 at 4:49 pm #

        Dom as a parent who adopted two boys, 5 years apart. I know first hand that genes are also involved. My boys had a Catholic upbringing and I was a participating dad. But no fault of mine or my wife, we had a drug addict son who ended up in prison. He robbed us blind and destroyed our house. Robbed the neighbors house got caught and went to prison. This was not due to bad parenting.

        • Dom March 17, 2014 at 8:45 pm #

          I have heard many of these sad adoption stories, particularly from overseas where the agency has little knowledge about the child, or worse, chooses not to disclose it. You unfortunately had an extreme case and it sounds like the child was wired that way and predisposed to that type of behavior.

  2. Sylvia March 17, 2014 at 8:13 pm #

    Yup I certainly did share it and invited others to do the same. I hope they will. It is high time for bullying to come to an end. Permanently!

  3. Eileen March 18, 2014 at 1:07 am #

    Unfortunately many moral and ethical values have gone by the wayside and there exists parents with an entitled attitude who support negative behaviors. Perhaps those students should be tested, as well. Also, graduate research on bullying that I conducted showed teachers not having the time to fit training for managing bullying into their already cramped schedules and some who don’t take it seriously. Parents of those bullied expect teachers to magically change bullies while teachers themselves are bullied by all concerned. Parents of bullies are mostly bullies themselves and cannot grasp the wrongfulness of bullying. So, for kids like Colin we have to step up to the plate and create an awareness for parents, teachers and students. Thanks, Dom.

  4. larry cohen March 25, 2014 at 7:55 am #

    My heart goes out to Guido .

    I had a cousin , he seemed
    to be no better no worse then any of us . I can’t even say he drank
    more then any of us when we were young.

    But he just one day turned to drinking every day
    before school and got thrown out at 16
    and that is the life he is still living
    at 40 .

    He didn’t end up in jail only because liquor
    is cheaper and nobody bothers
    to report you for $100.00 .

    His 3 brothers and sisters have no interest
    in liquor.

    Genes do matter also.

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