An Idaho father is calling on parents to educate their children about the affects of bullying in response to the torment his 7-year-old son experiences because of a rare condition that disfigured his face. Being the target of teasing has led the second-grader to even talk about suicide.
Dan Bezzant says that while school administrators have been doing all they can to stop kids from bullying his son, Jackson, it hasn’t been enough. In an accumulation of pain and frustration, Bezzant opened up about his feelings in a powerful and emotional Facebook post on September 14 when he heard older kids had called Jackson a “monster” during breakfast at school.
“I just broke down sitting in my car and crying my eyes out, not knowing what to do. I wrote the post as a plea for parents to educate their children and be aware of this issue,” Bezzant, 42, of Idaho Falls, Idaho, tells PEOPLE. “It was a desperate moment, and I couldn’t even go in the house. This has been going on a while, and it’s been an accumulation of things that just destroyed me—it still chokes me up.”
Jackson has Treacher Collins syndrome, which affects the development of bones and tissues in a person’s face. People with the condition can have a notch in the lower eyelids, eyes that slant downward and vision or hearing loss due to other developmental abnormalities, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. The condition affects an estimated 1 in 50,000 people.
In the Facebook post, Bezzant describes how Jackson feels everyone hates him since he is called “ugly” and a “freak” nearly every day by children at school (he even has had rocks thrown at him). Bezzant says this caused Jackson, who turns 8 on September 28, to talk about suicide.
“Jackson has expressed those feelings before, and in the last few of months, he has said it a few times,” he says. “That’s what broke me down the most. He shouldn’t have to feel that way—no one should have to feel that way just because they’re different.”
School officials have done a great job keeping an eye on Jackson to keep him safe, Bezzant says, but it’s up to parents to do more. Teachers and aids can’t be with Jackson every moment of the day, and much of the bullying has happened around corners and out of their view.
“I just want parents to take a lead role,” he says. “They need to sit their children down and teach them we’re all created equal, and everybody is different. We need to approach this with love and understanding.”
Bezzant’s post received a lot of attention over Facebook, and has more than 41,000 shares and 14,000 likes. He says people have messaged him offering to be Jackson’s friend. One of the most high-profile people in the Treacher Collins community, Jono Lancaster, has even offered to come to Jackson’s school to speak with students.
While his post has exposed thousands of people to Jackson’s story, Bezzant doesn’t want all of the attention to be focused on those who have Treacher Collins— bullying happens everywhere, to people with many conditions, and not just to children, he says.
“Bullying is a huge issue, and it needs to stop,” he says. “No one should have to feel like they want to kill themselves because they’re not like everybody else. It’s horrific, and I don’t want anyone to experience that.”
But things are looking up for young Jackson: Bezzant says he has been participating in local events and was recently offered to be the guest of honor at several anti-bullying rallies.
On Sunday night, when FaceTiming with Bezzant, Jackson asked his father, “Dad, I’m famous, aren’t I?”
It seems Jackson is realizing he isn’t so alone, after all.