The term embracing the suck was popularized some years ago as a military term, the modern equivalent to the WW2 GI terms FUBAR or SNAFU. The gist of the expression is that there are times when regardless of what you try to do, you’re going to be stuck with something so you might as well make the best of it. It’s a term that’s come into use in the PracticalDad household and particularly in regard to Youngest, who is now in middle school – Dear God, when did that happen? – and finding it as I did during that time, a purgatory to be endured until able to move on to someplace better. The issue surrounds interpersonal stuff with kids, especially the use of nicknames.
It’s an issue that I know all too well, having spent years – from late elementary school through high school – with the moniker “Weird” attached to my last name. It came quickly enough in elementary school when Bill Cosby premiered his Fat Albert show on Saturday mornings and the kids in my class latched onto it since the character’s first name is literally the same as my last name. But the name stuck for more than a short period and suddenly, I found it downright painful at times. I don’t know that I was any more weird than any other boy of that age, at the cusp of puberty and entering a phase that truly can be odd on any number of levels. Regardless of my own opinion, the name stuck.
In Youngest’s case, his is a nickname that comes not out of behavior or appearance but instead, circumstance. Youngest is an active kid who is in some ways a throwback with his neighborhood buddies, a group of boys who have routinely gathered at different yards after school to play sandlot football and generally beat the crap out of one another. But through the unorganized activities and the various sports, he’s incurred a string of significant injuries over a span of time that have, in each instance, wiped out months of any strenuous physical activity. The most recent injury has had a permanent effect since he’s now forbidden to play organized football in school, a sport for which he’d campaigned for several years and one which his mother and I had finally relented, agreeing to give permission to play. With all of the facts now coming out about traumatic brain injuries and the recurrence rate among athletes who have already incurred such an injury, the risk is simply too great. With yet another freak accident this Autumn, his fate and nickname were sealed and even kids at school who don’t know his real name, recognize him by the nickname.
Youngest would come home and in discussing the day, he’d express frustration at the ongoing situation. Not only was there too much drama among the collective hormonal melting pot, but now there was this damned nickname. As the conversations continued, he learned that there are really only three options when dealing with the interpersonal crap from others. The first is to simply try ignoring it in the hopes that it either becomes boring for others or someone else is gifted with an even worse moniker to steal the verbal limelight. The second is to make an issue of it with others and deal with it head-on, and typically in an aggressive and occasionally violent way. The third is to simply embrace it, taking it on and trying to make peace with its existence. The first option of trying to ignore it is, for a kid, largely unrealistic. Kids have little patience and sense of time and it would probably take much longer to die away than they’re willing to wait. I discussed my own experience with him and freely acknowledge that my own situation eventually went on for years…so look how well that one turned out for me, son. The second, aggressive, option is generally unworkable since there’s always – and at any age – some ass who’s more than happy to twist the knife and watch the ensuing fireworks. The reality is that by going off, you’re surrendering control of the circumstances and wind up dancing to another’s tune. The last option is to simply try to find a way to make peace with the situation and even work it to your advantage, i.e. embrace the suck. This option is the one that I adopted in my own youth after some conversation with my own parents. The opinion that I took was that if I was going to be called weird, then I might as well give people something to talk about and hey, maybe even have some fun in the process. So yes, I wound up doing some things that I might not have were it not for the nickname but the truth is also that I had a bit more fun that I would have had otherwise.
Youngest realizes that of all the possible nicknames in the world, his isn’t even remotely the worst possible one; this is especially after learning from his grandfather that one of that man’s childhood friends was nicknamed booger, a moniker still attached even after six decades. Youngest has also decided to embrace the situation and one of his Christmas gifts was something that he can wear to school that pokes fun at his own situation. It’s something that he asked for specifically after seeing it advertised and it now awaits the proper moment for an appearance in school. I have to admire his willingness to go ahead with it and understand it completely since purposefully trotting it out in front of others takes their power away by showing that you can’t be affected by their own remarks, comments often made with the intent to belittle and cut. I have no idea when he’ll pull out the item and it’s possible that it will wait until the weather is not so bitterly cold. But it will come out and Youngest will embrace the suck, a lesson in character that will last him, like others, a lifetime.