Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Slowing the Buck

I've certainly generated some visceral reactions towards my father, which of course are well-founded. I'm not a man of faith per-se, but I once read a passage from Kahlil Gibran that managed to lodge itself in the brain of a boy who once thought that all people of Chinese, Japanese and every other flavor of Asian descent looked the same.

Yea, the guilty is oftentimes the victim of the injured, And still more often the condemned is the burden-bearer for the guiltless and unblamed. You cannot separate the just from the unjust and the good from the wicked; For they stand together before the face of the sun even as the black thread and the white are woven together. And when the black thread breaks, the weaver shall look into the whole cloth, and he shall examine the loom also.

This passage has given me comfort, has helped me to forgive myself for some of the bad things I have said, for some of the terrible things I've done. I'm no weaver, but I can still examine a cloth for its flaws, just as a dissonant chord can cause my head to tilt and my lips to purse as if I had eaten a sour grape.

Dad comes from a different time, when the church sanctioned the belt and switch, and people commonly demurred to its moral dictates. Children weren't the treasures that some celebrate today; rather it seems they were a necessary burden that parents had to bear. If a child showed any sign of disrespect to his or her parents, or to friends of the parents, it was expected that the child be punished and otherwise chastened. Paddling, smacking, pinching and kicking the child was only right, deserved, and even godly in the eyes of most adults.

Children had no protection, because there was no such thing as child abuse, only good parenting. Self-help and parenting books and magazines weren't a billion dollar industry yet. What happened in the home stayed at home, and it was nobody's business but your own.

Take a look at the old Andy Griffith show. Andy Taylor, the sheriff of Mayberry, is the model human being. A single father--oops, who was Opie's mother anyway?--who raises little Opie, who would someday grow up to be the biggest director in Hollywood, with all the love and compassion that one could hope for. One episode ends with Opie happily skipping out to take his belt whipping after Andy explains to him why he must. Sure, Opie is scared, but he realizes that he did wrong and must now pay the price. Of course they didn't show the whipping. That would have been counterproductive to the message, nudging a sleeping audience already on the verge of waking up.

So it is no wonder that a spirited child like my father would have to survive until the day that he caught his fathers fist in one hand and pinned him to the shed wall with the other, and told him that he wasn't taking it any more.

If it sounds like I'm making excuses for my father, well, that's just what I'm doing. In my whole life, my father seriously struck me twice, both of which I have described before. And yes, they have made an impact on my self-esteem. But my life in comparison to his is as dramatically different as mine to my own children’s. In his own way, my father has taught me to stop the buck, even if he was only capable of slowing it down for a soft landing into my back pocket.

25 comments:

jenbeauty said...

Believe me Scott, I get it. I have had my own hard times with my mother. Things were never perfect and I have come to terms with most things as has my mom. Life is too short and he is still your dad.

I am sorry if you took offense to my comment in your other post. You paint such a clear pic of your dad that I have this image in my mind that includes the bad and the good.

Scott said...

Oh no Jen! I didn't take any offense whatsoever. Your reaction was most logical and expected after the gruesome picture I painted. I was back pedalling a little bit there, but I didn't think anything of it. I was touched that I reached you that deeply.

Tee said...

Great post...

My Dad was beaten with a belt as a kid. My grandfather ruled his house and even as his grand daughter, I got a few firm spanks from him. (Not with a belt though. I think my Mom would have hurt him. LOL.)

My Mom wasn't really spanked - maybe a swat on the behind once in awhile.

I had a few spankings growing up. I think all of them were well deserved. They were never over the top, always on my bottom, and always with the hand (well, except when my Mom got Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and started to use a wooden spoon. LOL. We used to hide it from her.)

Anyway - I think some amount of spanking can be effective as PART of disciplining SOME children. I'm against using objects.

My husband was raised being hit by anything his parents could get their hands on - belts, sticks, sandals.... That's what my husband tends to use - his sandal. He uses sandals in the house (it's a cultural thing I guess. My family tends to be barefoot in the house.)... Anyhow, I've always been against him using the sandal and he doesn't spank them near as much. He has matured and learned to be more patient. Now he'll usually talk to the boys about their behavior or take a priveledge away instead.

A very controversial subject to be sure.

jenbeauty said...

Thanks Scott! Sometimes I get worried that I have crossed a line with comments. It feels like I have gotten to know you and your family and forget how we can come across sometimes.

Scott said...

Tee - It's good to hear that Carlos is taking the patience route. He is a good example of what I am talking about, coming from a family where violence is the answer to any indiscretion, and now he has to unlearn those lessons to be an effective parent. My oldest is approaching six, and I haven't raised my hand against him yet. My dad and grandparents think he is a little spoiled, but at the same time they are proud of our patience and applaud what we are doing. It just takes longer, but taking away priveleges is more effective in the long run. You aren't damaging their self esteem and are teaching them a lesson at the same time.

Scott said...

Jen - I know exactly how you feel. It happens to me all the time. I value every comment you make here, and would never think badly of how you feel, because I know you always mean well and are always sweet.

Joely Sue Burkhart said...

I love your stories, even when they're hard to read emotionally. My father was raised much the same as yours. He used a belt to spank us, or whatever else was handy. But I learned quickly I didn't want to be in trouble, which turned me into the obsessed perfectionist I am today! My dad has mellowed considerably and is a terrific grandpa.

Scott said...

Joely - That's the flip side of it isn't it? I too learned to avoid trouble, and as a consequence was a fairly well-behaved kid. My kids aren't scared of me, but there is respect. I get pushed more than I would have dared to push my father, but it doesn't bother me because I love their individualism. I like it that they think for themselves.

trinamick said...

We were always spanked growing up, and I don't think we turned out too badly for it. But my bro-in-law's father would hit them with anything he had in his hand at the time. As a result, none of his children ever wanted to discipline their own kids, for fear of going overboard. Now they have rude, disrespectful children who expect everyone to give in to them. It's a very fine line between reasonable discipline and abuse, not an easy decision for parents which way to go.

Scott said...

Trina - Anyone who was beaten as a child has been affected by it whether they consciously know it or not. Hitting is the easy way out of disciplining a child; any kindergartener can understand the concept. It takes more discipline and patience to put away the weapons and use the mind instead. There is a fine line between discipline and abuse, but I draw at hitting at all. We do timeouts, and we talk to them all the time, especially when the heat of the moment has passed. My oldest boy gets flowery reports from his school teachers; he shares, listens and tries to help.

Eve said...

Hmmmm, such a controversial subject. My father was probably from the same generation as yours, but there were very few spankings and they were ALL for things we knew we weren't supposed to do. We were grounded, privaleges taken away, etc. Spankings were for last resort. I only remember being spanked once - and I did do wrong. I turned out pretty good. My low self-esteem came from my brother's verbal abuse, not any form of discipline. Now, it is true that if we talked back to our parents we got popped in the mouth - but that only happened once or twice - we learned our lessons well. I don't know - I think it's different with everyone. For every person one could trot out that it hurt, others could be brought forward where it didn't. I think the answer is balance. I never once felt that I wasn't loved by my parents - even when I was spanked.

Scott said...

Eve - Verbal abuse is another form of abuse just as or more destructive than physcial violence. I know that came from your brother, but sometimes abuse breeds more abuse, ie, your brother is resolving his frustrations in the way he was taught. Hey, I was spanked too, obviously, and I think I'm ok too. I think I would have been better off with parents that tried something less shame inducing. It's not a question of feeling unloved. I could beat my dog every day of it's existence and it will still come to me with it's head bowed low, begging for a scratch behind the ear.

Eve said...

Oddly enough - my parents never verbally abused us, so I don't know where my brother got it from. But he's no longer with us and the past is the past. We made up. Maybe I shouldn't have said loved - put it this way, I always felt safe and secure. Protected by my parents. I think it's just a matter of surrounding circumstances that's all. But, like I said, we all have differing opinions and that's what I like about this blog - people can disagree and not be made to feel like they're wrong. You do a good job at that. Hope you have a good Thanksgiving. I worry about Denver!!

Moni said...

I think for the most part our parents raised us as best they could. I believe that what was once considered the norm is now considered child abuse. Because we know better now. The objective of each generation should be...to make a better life for their kids. Better than what they had and that includes a better understanding of how we should teach, love, and discipline our children.

Scott your dad may not be perfect; and none of us are, but it seems like he raised a responsible, caring, intelligent, and talented individual. He will always be your dad and you will always be his son. That in itself is a noble act. ;) ((hugs))

The Zombieslayer said...

I'm all for corporal punishment. I've seen first hand kids that don't get disciplined. They're usually the ones in day care biting the other kids.

However, in the "good ol' days," most parents took it too far, sometimes waaaay too far. A spanking if correctly done should be done once, fast, and should be done with.

Junior got too old to spank years ago, and there's a lot of mutual respect nowadays. He's almost a teenager now, and I have absolutely no complaints about his behavior. He's a model kid, which is surprising because I feel like I wasn't a model father. But of course, a lot of us parents are hard on ourselves. ;)

I was spanked as a kid both by a hand slap and belt. I wouldn't have traded my father for any other father I've ever met though. Wonderful father, and now we see each other as adults with a tremendous amount of respect for each other. I probably was only spanked about four or five times in my life, and believe me, I deserved it each time.

Scott said...

Eve - I don't think I usually stir up too much debate on this blog, but I thank you for the compliment just the same.

Moni - I appreciate the beautiful words.

Zombie - Believe it or not, I wouldn't trade in my father either, but I would trade some of the behavior--a LOT of it. Don't mistake me though. When I say don't hit, I'm not saying don't disclipline. My wife and I work very hard at the latter, and don't think there haven't been times when we wouldn't have liked to just end it with a smack. We base our whole relationship with our kids on respect, and that goes both ways. When we've done something wrong, like reprimanding them for something they didn't do, which happens all the time with two now, we apologize. My dad taught me that, funny enough. For all his flaws, he knew how to do that.

Ultra Toast Mosha God said...

I used to get the odd smack fromm my dad.

Only when I had misbehaved though.

trinamick said...

I think it works differently for every kid. It's great that your kids respond well to alternative disciplines and are the better for it. Respect between parents and their children is vital.

Unfortunately, I have to deal with horrible children at both my jobs who that type of discipline has not worked for. I can't count the times I've had a screaming child throwing a fit at one of my tables while a parent says, "Honey, use your indoor voice or you'll get a timeout." If we'd have ever done that in public, we wouldn't have sat down for a week. But we'd have never repeated that behavior.

It's got to be tough to reach a balance today. You don't dare swat your kid in a store or someone turns you in for abuse. But that same person is the one getting huffy is your kid is a brat. There's no pleasing some people.

magnetbabe said...

It's funny because I did not take nearly as much issue with your dad swatting you as with some of the comments he made to you. I think the harsh verbal discipline is definitely worse than physical, and I don't agree with either forms. Yeah, I accept that's how things were back then and plenty of people turned out just fine for it. But that doesn't mean its the right thing to do. I agree with you Scott, communication really is the key. Talking things out respectfully. That's what my parents did with me, they rarely raised their voices and never raised their hands. That must have taken tremndous patience but because of them I know it's possible to do.

Chloe said...

It is never ok for a parent to strike or verbally abuse a child. Ever. My father's words will haunt me til I die, and I'm sure have played a big role in my becoming a Family Therapist.

mr. schprock said...

You know, I've followed all your stories closely and I have a pretty good opinion of your father, mainly because of how much you love the guy (that comes through very clearly). I personally have no problems with spankings, so long as they're done judiciously and not out of anger. I spanked my girls maybe 3 or 4 times each when they were much younger, just so the threat of a spanking had the effect necessary to make them reform their ways. They're growing up very well, and I believe that kind of discipline has played a part in it.

Sadie Lou said...

Ack.
Discipline can be the most challenging thing about parenting, No?
Like people have already said--each child is so different it's hard to know how to handle all the situations that come up.
From my experience, girls are far easier as far as destructive, naughty-ness and boys don't sass back as much.

Ashynioki said...

Insightful stuff, Scott. Ahh, guilt, how it compels us to defend speaking the truth because of how it sounds. I've said some things about my family that I am not proud of, and some that I truly regret. I'm glad that you and your wife have found ways to discipline your children without violence. I only wish all parents were as concerned with how their children will turn out as human beings rather than how obedient they are.
My biological father was abusive because he was a bully, plain and simple. He was bigger and stronger and liked it if we were afraid of him. He once beat my brother with a belt until he was lying on the floor crying at fifteen. He laughed at the sound of my brother's tears. Sometimes I wonder why God would have let such things happen to us when we were only children, why my brother had to feel such pain, why I had to see it. Then I see someone slap their child in public, and the disgust rises in me, and I know. Any part of me that could have done that was horrified out of me by my father.

P.S. I only recently looked at my "Ruminations" blog and thought you should know that I was not offended by your short story. I'm not that touchy, thank God.

Scott said...

Toast - Me too, but sometimes for things not so deserved. But sometimes I definitely had something coming to me.

Trina - I'm not sure what I would do if I were pushed too far to be honest. Maybe I'm just scary enough that my kids don't want to test me. A friend of mine told me he never got hit, but the fear of it was always there. Part of me thinks that not striking a child is not preparing them for a world that doesn't pull punches. As for the inside voice or timeout parents, they probably don't follow through with their threats, so of course the kids walk all over them.

MagnetBabe - I think you nailed it there: it's the verbal abuse, the constant debasement and shaming. Every time he lost his temper he was calling me names and belittling me. I'll take a swat and an apology anyday.

Chloe - I agree of course. There are other ways. One thing that struck me about Zombies term Corporeal punishment is that it disguises the meaning somewhat, making it sound grand, or great. Why not imperial punishment?

Mr. Schprock - Well, I certainly don't mean any disrespect to you or anyone else who punishes fairly and judiciously, and not from anger. I think a small amount at extreme moments can have a positive impact.

Sadie - Not sure on that one, but I do know that both boys and girls need to have a fair amount of respect for their parents by the time they are teenagers. Both sexes are hard to handle in different ways.

Monica - I certainly don't think all parents hit out of anger, and do have the best intentions for their children's well being, which would be so in my case too. So far, and we are lucky, but so far we haven't been pushed beyond a limit where physical punishment was necessary. Always there has been another solution, one that has allowed our children to have their self-respect. I remember when my step-mother punched me in the stomach because I didn't clean the dog shit in the basement--I remember how I felt. Vividly. How helpless. Small. Ashamed. Alone. Victimized. Sorry, but I'll never touch my children in anger.

Kathleen said...

Late as always...

I remember being spanked once (maybe twice) as a kid, but it wasn't more than one or two smacks on the butt with the hand. My father always said that he didn't have to hit me, if he just looked at me crossly I would start to cry. Of course, he has many other things for which to answer, but physical abuse isn't one of them.

The sad thing is that I can honestly say that I don't love my father and I rarely, if ever, feel guilty about that, as he never made me feel as if he loved me. I spent too many years trying to win his approval and love with no luck. Now he's trying and I don't feel the need to assuage his guilt.