This is a repost from April 26, 2016. I did write fresh content today, but I don’t feel safe in sharing it publicly. So I’m sharing this piece from my old blog instead, mainly because old memories were brought up by a meme my aunt shared a few years ago.
My mind is on an incident that occurred sometime around 1983. I was in middle school. Every Sunday, my dad took me to Sunday school and church. I hated going because I thought church was pretty boring. My mom was the organist at another church and my dad sang in the choir, so I either sat alone or with a lady who was the wife of another choir member.
As much as I hated church, I really hated Sunday school. The guy who taught my Sunday school class at that age was very annoying. I didn’t like him at all. I don’t remember exactly why I didn’t like him, but I hated being in his class. I also got bullied by others in Sunday school, people who had been born and raised in the community and picked on anyone who wasn’t like them.
For some reason, one week I decided I wasn’t going to go to Sunday school, so I hid in the bathroom for the whole hour. The following week, I did the same thing. I don’t remember how many times I ditched Sunday school, but it was enough times that when the Sunday school teacher ran into my dad and me at the grocery store, he asked where I had been. My dad, who was unaware that I had been playing hooky, was flabbergasted that I disobeyed him. When we got home, he gave me a spanking that I have never forgotten.
I don’t remember my dad ever asking me why I skipped Sunday school. I don’t remember him talking to me about why I needed to be there. I just remember his raw brutality that day and how it made me feel. After that, I went back to Sunday school, but I still hated it and really resented the teacher. When he died a couple of years later, I was glad I didn’t have to see him anymore. His wife was a friend of my mother’s. I liked her. She was very intelligent and played piano. I’m sure her husband was a swell guy. But he sure fucked up my world that day in the early 80s, when my dad was more concerned about his image and my disobedience than he was about me, personally.
I was reminded of that incident last night after reading about the latest research on spankings. I made the mistake of sharing the article and got a few comments from conservatives who continue to defend it. I wasn’t actually wanting to debate the issue. In fact, I simply said I wasn’t a fan of corporal punishment. I speak out as someone who was disciplined almost exclusively with yelling and hitting, not one of those people who constantly claim spanking is harmless and builds character. I figure I have as much of a right to be heard as those who think spanking is totally okay.
As I was having this discussion last night, sitting in my living room with my gentle husband, I got very upset. I finally had to tell people I was done with the topic, because I was sitting there in tears remembering being physically punished by my dad.
I recalled my dad when he was in discipline mode, face beet red, veins popping out, and barely in control of himself. Fortunately, he was never one to use a belt or a spoon. He only used his hands, which were definitely enough when he was enraged. I remember him yelling at me as he hit me, powered by fury and adrenaline. I never knew which infractions would earn me a spanking. He would just spank when the mood struck, which was never consistent. Come to think of it, he was inconsistent about a lot of things. For instance, he always wore a seatbelt, but wouldn’t always make me wear one. Usually, when he did, it was either because he was punishing me or trying to assert himself as the boss of the family.
One time when I was about 13, my dad was driving me and a friend to the barn where I kept my horse. I had to go clean stalls. As we were headed there, my dad informed me that he expected me to haul gravel when we got back home. I asked him if the work could wait until I no longer had a guest. He got very angry and told me not to expect him to come pick us up later. For some reason, I got very upset with my dad and called him an asshole. His response to that was pretty epic. He parked the car. I got out and headed for the barn. He followed me, grabbed me by the neck, and started to throttle me.
My friend watched my dad scream at me as he clutched me by the neck. I remember telling him to let me go or I’d kick him in the balls. He did let go. Later, he acted as if nothing had happened, though my mom made sure to tell me that I’d “really blown it”. She was just pissed that he was pissed and didn’t care why I called him an asshole. Maybe I shouldn’t have done that. I had lost my temper too. But I was a kid and he was a grown man who resorted to violence to get his point across. I certainly didn’t gain any regard for my father when he choked me in front of my friend.
My father’s discipline sessions did not teach me to respect him. As a matter of fact, by the time he died, I had a lot of conflicted feelings about him. He was my father and I loved him for the many good things he did. But he also often treated me badly and felt he had a perfect right to. He brought me into the world and felt he had the right to “take me out”, right?
The latest studies on spankings indicate that spankings make children more aggressive and less successful. Quoted from the article I linked:
The more kids are spanked, the greater the risk
Studies have shown that spanking can damage a child’s IQ or ability to learn; that it trigger aggressiveness and worsens behavior. Gershoff says the pattern is consistent when a large number of studies are put together.
“In childhood, parental use of spanking was associated with low moral internalization, aggression, antisocial behavior, externalizing behavior problems, internalizing behavior problems, mental health problems, negative parent- child relationships, impaired cognitive ability, low self-esteem, and risk of physical abuse from parents. In adulthood, prior experiences of parental use of spanking were significantly associated with adult antisocial behavior, adult mental health problems, and with positive attitudes about spanking,” they wrote.
“Spanking was also significantly associated with lower moral internalization, lower cognitive ability, and lower self-esteem. The largest effect size was for physical abuse; the more children are spanked, the greater the risk that they will be physically abused by their parents.”
Let’s take a look at the end results in my case:
First off, here I sit, “The Overeducated Housewife”. Some may say that I’ve been “successful” in many ways. I have a good marriage and managed to finish my education and then some. But I haven’t had a regular job in years. I tried to get one for a long time, but finally gave up on it. The thought of going back to work terrifies me. I also have trust issues with people and am reluctant to connect with them.
I have suffered from clinical depression and anxiety. I had issues with eating disorders when I was younger, though now I think I’ve pretty much traded those for drinking too much. I’m still haunted by my upbringing and if I think too long and hard about it, I get very upset.
As a kid, I was aggressive to other kids and animals. It wasn’t until I got older that I developed a sense of empathy and compassion. I think it’s safe to say that I have a lot of negative feelings about my parents, too. I would consider my father’s version of “spankings” excessive and abusive. They were not done when he was calm and they didn’t involve anything more than him getting out his frustration and anger by physically attacking someone much smaller than him. Maybe some people would say that my dad’s spankings were actually beatings. But my dad called what he did “spanking” and it was perfectly fine for him to do that to me. I often felt resentment and often fantasized about hitting him back.
Was all of my baggage caused by my father’s spankings? Probably not. But I don’t think the physical punishments were helpful at all and I can definitely relate to what researchers discovered in their studies on spankings. Maybe I’d be more in favor of corporal punishment if my father had spanked me when he was calm and rational, but it would have taken time, effort, and self-control for him to get to that state. He wasn’t disciplined enough to calm down before he put his hands on me, so his form of discipline ended up being abusive.
I often hear people saying that today’s kids are entitled brats because they don’t get spanked. I don’t think that’s why kids today seem different than they were in my day. I think a major reason why kids are more “fucked up” nowadays is because they aren’t necessarily allowed to be kids anymore. We have plenty of nanny laws designed to protect them, even though there’s never been a safer time to be a kid. We don’t let them run and play, but force them to take standardized tests. We don’t let them explore on their own or give them time to dream. Instead, we load them up with planned, supervised activities. Parents have to work very hard to make ends meet and often families end up splintering under the stress. And at the end of childhood, young adults have this fucked up world to assimilate into somehow.
I understand that people are going to do what they’re going to do. Parents are going to spank their kids and call it “loving” discipline. I can’t agree that spanking a child is a loving action. I think it’s often done as a result of a parent losing control and being lazy. But I also say that as someone who was a recipient of corporal punishment and not as a parent myself. I admit that I don’t know what it’s like to be on the other side of the equation. I’m sure if I were a parent, I would be tempted to lash out sometimes, even though intellectually, I think spanking is a wrong-headed thing to do.
Plenty of people were spanked as kids and “turned out fine”. Maybe I’m “fine” too. When I think of my father today, sometimes the memories are good. Often, they make me feel sad and depressed. I wasn’t his favorite child and I bore the brunt of his PTSD, depression, and alcoholism. He’d call me fat, retarded, and “crazy” and he felt like he had the right to strike me anytime he wanted. He’d leave me enraged and humiliated and full of hatred for him. Somehow, I doubt that’s what my dad was going for when he decided I needed discipline.