Community Papers

Seminar aims to help bully proof your child

Faisal
Faisal 'Big Dog' Khattak is getting let out of his yard to give an anti-bullying talk at Douglas College on Jan. 30.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

As a five year old in Pakistan, Faisal Khattak was happy to go to school. It was a place to learn, have fun on the playground and escape his overbearing parents.

That utopia changed one lunch hour. What happened was a secret he kept for 33 years.

Now that it's out, Khattak is telling his story to help others deal with bullying and to stop bullies from their bad behaviour. The New Westminster resident will be holding an introductory event that is free to the first 50 registrants at Douglas College on Jan. 30 (7 p.m.) to share what he knows.

That fateful day, Khattak was the last one to leave the classroom but before he could get out the door three older boys, about 12 years old, snuck in and turned off the lights.

Khattak knew he was in trouble. He'd seen them bullying students in the school, and little Faisal thought he was in for a beating.

It turned out to be much worse.

Two of them grabbed him and took his pants down. The third took his own pants down and proceeded to sexually assault Khattak while he was held down by the others.

Khattak didn't know what hit him. He screamed as he endured the pain being perpetrated on him. At such a tender age he had no concept of rape. When it was done, the boys laughed and left the classroom.

He was a mess the rest of the day. The scene kept on going over and over in his mind like a horror movie loop.

He couldn't tell his parents because he was afraid they'd beat him and say it was his fault. So he shut up and pretended nothing had happened.

While he wasn't raped again, he did get bullied because his attackers could sense his vulnerability. Khattak's confidence and self-esteem evaporated.

He was 10 when he was sitting at a table with a white cloth and wrote on it, "I want to die."

"Luckily, I did not have the guts to kill myself," says Khattak in his Queen's Park home.

By the time he turned 18, enough was enough. He had to do something.

He signed up to study computer science at Oklahoma City University. His parents were happy because it was prestigious in Pakistan for children to study overseas. They didn't know his real motive.

"Education was just an instrument to get away from that place," says Khattak.

Oklahoma was quite the culture shock. While he wasn't bullied physically, there was discrimination because of his skin colour and his limited English language skills.

To maintain his secret he pretended to be strong. By doing so he became stronger and stronger.

"Subconsciously I adopted that new me, and then I wasn't afraid of anybody," Khattak says.

He became ambitious, taking over a convenience store with a gas station and pizza outlet and began making money. He fell in love with a woman from India who was also studying there and married her. This didn't go over well with his parents because she was from a different religion and a rival country.

His wife worked for American Airlines when she applied for a counter job in Vancouver and got it. When he came north to visit her he loved it so they moved here in 1999. He bought a store in Richmond and later added two more, which he has since sold.

Khattak was making good money, he loved his wife and two daughters—now 10 and 7 years old—and they had a beautiful home in the Queen's Park neighbourhood. But he wasn't totally happy.

On the advice of some friends, he and his wife went to a life coach boot camp, where everyone was asked to talk about a secret they've been keeping to themselves. In front of 15 strangers he took the microphone and let loose with his doozy of a secret he hadn't spoken of for more than three decades. The relief, he says, came cascading out of him.

"As soon as I did that, I felt so much better," says Khattak. "It was life changing."

By the time the five-day camp was over he had decided he wanted to use his experience and knowledge to help others. He didn't want his daughters to go through what he'd experienced.

"They shouldn't ever know what the meaning of suicide or rape is," says Khattak.

While others run his store, he's devoted himself to his new venture of being an anti-bullying speaker and coach. During the boot camp, he'd told the others the bullying made him feel like a little chihuahua. Now, he told them, he was a big dog. Hence his slogan: 'Big dogs never get bullied. Bring out the Big Dog in your child.'

He also comes out for his speeches with "Who Let The Dogs Out" playing in the background.

"Big dog does not mean in size, it's mentally," says Khattak. "It's changing your kid's thoughts on how they can stand tall and look in the bully's eyes and say 'no more.' ”

The recent Amanda Todd case in which a Lower Mainland teenager took her life because of bullying has highlighted the importance of bringing it out in the open and Khattak believes he's proof of that.

"I'm happy, I'm energetic all day because I'm not holding on to that any more," he says. "I'm handing the shame back to the boys who it really belonged to."

• To attend the event at Douglas College's New Westminster campus, register at www.bothsidesofbullying.com. Khattak, author of The Bully Mind, can also be accessed through social media at facebook.com/faisalkhattak.bd or twitter.com/bothbullying.

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