A baby boomer offers The Big Sorry

Baby boomer Bob Brody of New York City is not just an essayist; professionally he is a public relations executive. And privately? Well, he has decided to do a little public relations about his personal life too. You see, he has begun to think back about his childhood, and all the other kids he offended, and he has decided to finally offer them what he should have given them a long time ago: The Big Sorry.

Before this new year goes too far, before I forget and before I lose my nerve, let me check this item off my to-do list and just say what I have to say:

Bob Brody today. (photo by Aaron Showalter, New York Daily News)

Bob Brody today.
(photo by Aaron Showalter, New York Daily News)

I’m sorry.

That’s right. I’m hereby officially apologizing to everyone I ever wronged as a boy. It’s a long list, but hey, you have to start somewhere.

To begin, I never apologized to that kid in the fifth grade I called fat, nor to all the Hebrew-school teachers in whose classes I seldom paid attention, nor to my sister for teasing her too much. So please let me do so now.

Sorry, all.

At age 15, while on duty as a salesman for a record retailer in a shopping mall, I regularly stole audiocassettes. The store detective told me he dubbed the thief “the phantom” and swore he would catch him in the act. Never happened.

Sorry about that.

I especially need to apologize to Larry, a kid a year older than I who lived in a house across the street from ours. One day some of us boys were roughhousing on our lawn, just rolling around in the grass and jostling each other. There lay Larry laughing and clearly enjoying the tussle with me standing over him. Then, for reasons I’ll never understand, I kicked him in the face.

Larry clutched his jaw and howled in pain and shock and rolled from side to side. He ran home screaming. As it turned out, I had knocked out some of his teeth, and from then on he had to wear dentures.

As far as I can recall, Larry never told anyone. If he had, surely his parents would have talked to mine, and insisted we redress this grievance and pay his dental bills. But no. The incident remained our secret. Until now.

So I’m sorry, Larry. Sorrier than I can ever say. I never meant to hurt you. We were only playing, after all. Maybe you already know that. Still, I have no explanation and certainly no excuse.

Oh, I could go on about all the sins I committed as a youth. Throwing snowballs at cars and buses and trucks driving through the street, aiming at the windshields. Making prank phone calls to strangers to ask, “Is your refrigerator running? Maybe you better chase after it.” Talking with my sister about my mother behind her back while in the same room because my mother is deaf and would never be the wiser. But the rap sheet would get encyclopedic.

The early part of a new year is as good a time as any for all of us who have any apologizing to do to clear our consciences and start fresh.

Of course, if I really meant business here, I would go one by one contacting anyone in my distant past to whom I owe an apology, rather than apologize en masse. The Big Sorry, I would call this personal campaign. But I have a day job, and it would take years.

If my youth proved unapologetic, though, my life as an adult has turned out to be anything but. Once I got married and we had children and I had to earn a living, I learned to apologize frequently. As a result, I’m what you might call an apologist— except I do it for myself rather than, say, Big Tobacco or, for that matter, Congress. I would estimate, for example, that I’ve spent roughly half our marriage apologizing to my wife.

sorry

So accustomed am I to apologizing as an adult that somewhere along the line I developed the habit of apologizing in advance. I’ll start a sentence with, “Sorry if this offends anyone, but . . . ” or, “Forgive me if I’m being too negative here, but . . . ” Apologizing preemptively eliminates the pressure to apologize after the fact.

The reason why I’m now looking to make amends has mainly to do with guilt. Guilt, despite its bad name, is actually good. Guilt is motivational. Guilt calls you out. Without guilt we might never feel sorry about anything, or even show up at our jobs. You could do a lot worse than to live a life governed by guilt. So feel free to consider me guilty as charged.

Shame and regret over wrongdoing can be highly instructive. You need the whole package in order to tender a heartfelt and full-blooded apology.

That’s why I never quite understood the rationale for Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. Unlike some Jews, I believe setting aside a single day for penance is grossly insufficient. Who can possibly pack all the remorse we feel into only 24 hours? No, I believe in seeking redemption year-round.

And for this, by the way, I make no apology.

Bob Brody has an upcoming memoir, “Playing Catch With Strangers: A Family Guy (Reluctantly) Comes Of Age.”

6 Comments

  1. This apology means nothing. Maybe it gets you some attention on here, maybe you get paid for writing it and maybe it makes you feel better but it is worthless unless you say it to those you hurt such as the “fat kid” from 5th grade and people like Larry you did serious harm to. You should carry the guilt until you make amends with those you hurt personally, not just a blanket “sorry” on a website. Your lack of character is showing. Take the time in your free time to do the right thing- even if it takes years. I was told I was fat in elementary school and have the physical and emotional consequences to show for it. It wounds. And remember Karen Carpenter of the Carpenters who was called fat as a teen and died at 32 from a heart attack brought on by the years of anorexia that started because of that careless remark. Who knows what permanent harm you caused the “fat” kid.

  2. Well written and clever! I have a little different approach. I apologize only as appropriate and at the time to the offended person. But I like your tongue-in-cheek post.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Bob. It brought back memories.

      There was a “dark” period in my life when sorry didn’t cut it, because of repetitious counter-productive behavior. I was forced into a sea-change in my attitude and behavior and am the better for it today. (I am grateful that that occurred before I was on my death bed).

      And of course there are still things I inadvertently (or maybe not so inadvertently) do, that require apologies. But I tend to agree with Terri’s sentiment and Lori’s well-articulated advice.

  3. Fun article, but tje way you verbalize makes it seem more like an attempt to bebwitty than an apology. “Sorry, all” does not really cut it….. I really think an apology to be real needs to focus on making it clear that you get what you made the other person feel, REAllY, not so much on the pranky aspects of your side and “sorry, fat kid..”. These apologies do nothing when received because they really do. ot convey whatvthey should. Your focus and your narrative should be on the other person, not on you.
    I do not doubt that your sentiments are real and valuable, but the delivery needs a lot of work.

  4. I never bought the “sticks and stones” stuff.

    Words are powerful.

    Thirty years after the fact, I ran into one of the bullies I remembered. It seemed she hadn’t forgotten either. She told me in a back-handed-compliment sort of way that I looked better, and recalled my glasses. Then she became serious and shared she never realized what a clique she was in. That was the closest she could come to an actual apology. But I appreciated the sentiment.

    I’ve crossed paths with the other one over the years. We embrace. We stood there in the produce aisle one day when she said a teacher once called her out her crocodile tears, and she knew she deserved it. She admitted she didn’t get along with new people. That was the best she could do, but I appreciated her heartfelt effort.

    Sorry is a big word. Archie Bunker couldn’t utter it.

    Maybe it’s not too late.

  5. At my 40th HS reunion, I wanted to get on a mike and apologize to any/all I had been a mean girl to! Although being bullied is one thing, I think some of the weird looks and sarcastic comments we made as adolescents DO go unnoticed.

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