My boys and I were gathered around the computer screen, watching a Facebook video. The video depicted a father whipping his teenage daughter with a belt for staying out all night and fooling around with boys. As the girl skipped around comically, trying to evade her father’s lashes, my boys laughed.
I suspect that their laughter, in part, stemmed from the fact that this type of discipline was foreign to them.
As my boys were growing up, my wife and I opted for a more hands off approach. As my eldest was growing up, he spent a great deal of time standing in the corner. My wife and I grounded our boys, or withheld privileges. To be certain there were a lot of lectures and I have been known to raise my voice. I can honestly say that the number of times my three boys were spanked (as opposed to beaten or whipped) can be counted on one hand.
As a boy growing up, I was not so lucky. My parents were old school Southern, which meant they believed in corporal punishment.
As we watched the video, I decided to use the opportunity to teach a lesson. I began to warn them that times had changed, in many states, even spanking a child is against the law. The type of discipline the father was engaged in, could very well land him in jail for child abuse. “Not like when I was a boy and this type of discipline was the norm.” I offered.
“Why I remember a time my mother showed up at the school and whipped me in front of my classmates.” My boys looked at me in disbelief.
“Sure, I was hit with a belt all the time.” As I continued to talk, an odd thing began to happen. My throat began to constrict and get sore; my voice began to quiver and my eyes began to well up with tears. Before I knew it, I was standing in front of my boys, the tears streaming down my face.
The video suddenly became a lot less funny.
There are many in my generation who laugh about the way we were disciplined and bemoan the passing of the “old school.” They joke about getting whooping’s, of having to go out and find a switch with which our dear old grandma could tear up our backsides. When running back Adrian Peterson was arrested for abusing his children, commentator Charles Barkley defended Peterson saying, “Every Black parent in the south whips their children.” Barkley spoke a nasty truth that this sort of thing is/was common place in Black households. But it’s not just Black families. There are many white families with similar tales and like me, assumed a kind of pride in the fact of having been beaten and abused. Unlike this soft generation, we were raised right!
I stood in front of my boys crying because I had unexpectedly irritated the buried wounds of abuse.
Of course, back then I didn’t think of it as abuse; it was just the way things were. If I misbehaved, or made my parents angry, I was smacked. And it didn’t matter where I was or who I was with. I was whipped and beaten with anything my parents could get their hands on: belts, wooden hair brushes, shoes, coat hangers, extension cords, hands. (Did I leave anything out?) Whipping! Beating!
And the wounds go much deeper than the welts that were left on my skin. How many times have I begun to fuss at my boys and heard my mother come out of my mouth? How often have I become angry with one of my children and heard my father respond to them? How much of what I share with my therapist each week is the result of that old school discipline?
The number of times that I physically disciplined my boys can be counted on one hand and I never disciplined them when I was angry. That’s what I used to say as a way of distancing myself from the idea that I might be inflicting on them some of what was inflicted on me. Now, I say something different. Now, I apologize to my sons and tell them that I wish I could go back and make different choices; I certainly would. The last thing I would ever want is any of my boys standing in front of my grandchildren crying from the physical and mental pain I visited upon them as children. If I am lucky, the sins of my father (and mother) will have ended with me. Now that would be something to brag about.