book reviews, celebrities

Repost: A review of Going My Own Way by Gary Crosby…

Here’s a repost of a review I wrote on January 2, 2015 about Gary Crosby’s tell all book on growing up as Bing Crosby’s son, Going My Own Way. It appears here as/is.

For years, I heard about the controversial book the late Gary Crosby, eldest son of the late Bing Crosby, wrote about his parents.  The book, entitled Going My Own Way, was published in 1983 and was considered a “scathing” account of the reality of what it was like to grow up the son of a big Hollywood star who portrayed himself as the consummate family man.  I am a little too young for Bing Crosby, though I do remember the duet he did with David Bowie back in the 70s…

A classic Christmas duet circa 1977…

I didn’t actually see the Christmas special that spawned this version of “The Little Drummer Boy”, but over the years, the video has been replayed during the holiday season.  I also remember Mary Crosby, Bing’s daughter, who played Kristin Shepard on Dallas and was credited with shooting J.R. Ewing.  Aside from that, I only heard about Bing… and Bill has told me that a few years after Gary Crosby’s book came out, the late Phil Hartman, who was then on Saturday Night Live, did a spoof about how when Bing’s sons misbehaved, they needed to go have a “talk” in the library.

I was curious about the book and the cultural references to it, so I decided to purchase a used copy.  I recently finished reading Going My Own Way and, I must admit, it was very interesting.  As “scathing” memoirs go, I didn’t think it was all that bad.  Gary Crosby was Bing Crosby’s eldest son with his first wife, Dixie Lee.  He grew up in a huge house in Hollywood, surrounded by servants, many of whom were black.  Crosby’s mother was a strict disciplinarian and a serious alcoholic who relied on an Irish nurse named Georgie to keep Gary and his brothers, Phil, Denny, and Lindsay, in line. 

Like his wife, Bing Crosby was also a very strict disciplinarian who strongly believed in employing corporal punishment, strict rules, and verbal abuse to control his sons.  Crosby writes that it was difficult for him to have friends because his parents were so strict.  It wasn’t often that he was allowed to bring friends over or go to friends’ houses.  Crosby’s parents were quick to remind their sons that they were not special simply because they were Bing Crosby’s sons.  Though they were educated at private schools, they were not treated differently and didn’t hang out with Hollywood types.  Indeed,  from the time the boys were eleven until they were adults, each summer Bing Crosby sent them to work at a ranch he owned.  They learned how to herd cattle and make hay bales alongside men of much more modest means.  Crosby writes that he hated the ranch work because his father forced him to do it, though he might have enjoyed it a lot more if he’d been the one who chose to go. 

Gary Crosby had a weight problem when he was growing up.  His backside was wide, which caused his father to refer to him as “bucket butt” or “satchel ass”.  According to Gary, Bing would even call his son these names in public, particularly in front of Bing’s friends.  Bing Crosby ordered his son to lose weight and would force him to endure weigh ins.  If he didn’t lose weight, Gary would get a whipping.   Bing used a belt that had metal studs in it and would beat his boys until they bled.  At the first drop of blood, the beating would stop.  Gary writes that he used to hope he’d bleed early.  

Bing Crosby and Gary Crosby perform together…

When Gary became a teenager, he had a strict curfew and would often have to leave social events early in order to appease his father, who would not hesitate to use a belt and verbal abuse to get his point across.  It wasn’t until Gary was 18 years old and had finally had enough that the whippings stopped.  By that time, his father had traded the belt for a cane.  I must admit, reading that part of the book resonated with me.  I had a similar experience with my own father, who was also a proponent of physical punishment and last struck me when I was almost 21 years old.  My father was also one to use verbal abuse…  indeed, reading about some of Crosby’s experiences rang very true to me, since my dad did a lot of the same things to a milder extent.  Crosby also writes about his father’s penchant for womanizing and drinking, as well as holding gifts over his sons’ heads in order to control them.  Gary Crosby had his own issues with alcohol and drugs, which he writes about in the book.  He also was one to get in fist fights when the mood struck.

Crosby uses a lot of slang and filthy language in his memoir.  Personally, I wasn’t offended by it.  In fact, the slang sort of gave the book a 50s nuance, which makes sense, since Crosby was born in the 30s and would have been a young person in the 50s.  I liked that he included photos, which helped me put faces to his stories.  I also got the sense that despite the abuse, he did love his parents, especially his mother.  He even writes a message to his other siblings, products of Bing Crosby’s second marriage to Kathryn Crosby, that the father he knew was not the same man as the father who raised them.  And Crosby even admits that his father passed along musical talent to him and the ranch work gave him useful skills outside of show business.  As one who has a perverse interest in Pat Boone’s career, I liked that Gary Crosby also writes about what it was like to work with Boone.  Apparently, Crosby thought Boone was a nice guy and easy to work with, despite his love of “clean livin’.”  Pat Boone, as we all know, is also a big believer in spankings.

Gary and Bing sing with Frank Jr.

Gary Crosby’s mother died in 1952 of ovarian cancer.  At the time of Dixie Lee’s passing, Gary was studying at Stanford University, where he wasn’t a particularly good student.  I was moved by how he described his father’s pained reaction to his mother’s deteriorating condition.  Yes, he writes a lot about how “the old man” abused him and his brothers, but he also somehow manages to give his father a human face.  That’s why I say the memoir wasn’t that scathing.  Yes, it was probably shocking to those who grew up with Bing Crosby and loved his music, but as someone who also grew up with an alcoholic and occasionally abusive father, I thought Gary Crosby was just being honest.  I think back in the 80s, when this book was originally published, corporal punishment and verbal abuse were much more accepted as normal parenting than they are now.  While I think sometimes Americans are going a little too far in the other direction with how they are parenting their children, as someone who experienced growing up with an alcoholic, I feel like Gary Crosby was very truthful in his account.  He was not just a whiner.   

Gary Crosby died in 1995 of lung cancer. He was 62 at the time of his death and had married three times. You can read a chapter of Going My Own Way here. Here is an article from a 1983 issue of People magazine about Gary’s book.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

Standard
education, memories, mental health, true crime

Principal in Florida school “caught with her pants down”…

Before I get started… anyone who hit this blog because of the expression, “caught with her pants down” should know that this is not going to be a perverted post. So if you came here because your mind is in the gutter, you probably ought to keep scrolling. When I write the principal was “caught with her pants down”, I mean she was caught doing something wrong while unaware or unprepared. It’s an idiom that happens to suit this particular news story, which I read first in the Washington Post. TMZ also ran the story, along with an accompanying video.

In this case, the principal is 37 year old Melissa Carter, of Central Elementary School in Clewiston, Florida. On April 13th, Carter took it upon herself to paddle a six year old kindergartner who had allegedly damaged a computer screen. The little girl’s mother, who doesn’t speak English and has not been identified, secretly recorded the incident, which happened right in front of her and 62 year old Cecilia Self, a school clerk who was there to interpret. The mother also said that Self’s interpretations of what was happening were inaccurate.

The girl’s mother and her husband are undocumented immigrants from Mexico and although the mom did not approve of her child being “beaten” with a wooden paddle, she felt powerless to stop it because she was afraid she would be reported to immigration authorities. Since the paddling, the girl has been transferred to a new school at her mother’s request. However, the girl has needed therapy; she cries often and doesn’t sleep. So the mother, despite being rightfully afraid of being deported, has reported the incident. Now, Melissa Carter may be facing criminal charges. It’s important to note that Florida does allow corporal punishment in schools. However, Hendry County school system, where Central Elementary School is located, does not.

Having watching the videos of the scolding and subsequent paddling, I tend to agree that it was less of a spanking and more of a beating. Carter rears back and hits the child with gusto. And when the child instinctively raises her hands to protect herself, the principal yells at her to put her hands down, then loudly berates her. I can understand why the child is now traumatized. It was hard for me to watch and listen to Carter speak– although in Carter’s defense, I don’t know if this incident was a first offense or the child was a repeat visitor to Carter’s office. Regardless, she had no right to hit the child, if only because that method of punishment is not allowed in her school district.

Some regular readers of my blog may remember that I had an unfortunate experience with being paddled in school when I was in the fourth grade in Gloucester, Virginia, which in the early 80s, was still very rural. During the 1981-82 school year, corporal punishment was still allowed in Virginia. That year, I had a young male teacher who was very popular and considered “cute”. I’ll call him Mr. A.

Mr. A. was memorable in many ways. I actually liked him a lot, because he was creative and a big believer in having fun. He used to encourage us to exercise and would take us out to run around the playground or play games– this was besides physical education class. He also had Armenian ancestry, which I found interesting even back then. I didn’t know that in 1995, I’d move to Armenia myself for two years. In the early 80s, Armenia was still part of the Soviet Union.

I remember when I was assigned Mr. A., he had a reputation for “whaling” kids. He actually called it whaling, because his paddle was shaped like a whale. And when he decided, rather arbitrarily, to hit children, he would do it in the front of the class, which was very humiliating. It happened to me once, for a reason that I think was completely inappropriate. Forty years later, I still haven’t forgotten it. It still pisses me off, because he had no right to strike me for any reason, let alone the reason he did. Below is part of the post I wrote in 2013 about the day I got a “whaling”.

…I was generally a pretty good kid and, in his class, I was one of the better students.  But one day, he had asked us to exchange papers so we could grade them.  I whispered to the person in front of me that mine might be messy.  Next thing I know, Mr. A. was calling me up to the front of the room to put my hands on the blackboard and bend over so my butt stuck out.  He made some inappropriate comment about how he had a good target, then proceeded to hit me with his whale paddle.

I don’t remember the paddling being painful.  It was just very humiliating.  To be paddled in front of a bunch of nine year olds is really embarrassing, especially when a lot of them tease you to start with.  I remembering being very upset… like I had been publicly betrayed by a trusted friend.  Moreover, I really didn’t think my offense warranted a paddling.

I went home still upset and my mom asked what was wrong.  I told her what happened.  She was upset about it, but my dad said I must have deserved it.  My dad was very pro corporal punishment and that was pretty much the only method he ever used to discipline me.  I still have a lot of lingering anger toward him for that reason.  He would get angry and hit me, sometimes when he was out of control.  Granted, I was a “handful”, but I was basically a good kid who caused little trouble, other than occasional disrespect and mischief. 

Paddling in public schools was legal in Virginia in the early 1980s; it has been banned in public schools since 1989, but is still allowed in private schools.  And maybe there were a few kids who deserved to be paddled, though I think that would have been better done in private instead of in front of their peers.  I don’t think what I did justified a public humiliation… and obviously many years later I still remember it.  I think if a teacher ever hit a child of mine, I would go ballistic.

I think most of all, though, I was disappointed in my mom.  She objected to what Mr. A had done, but did nothing about it.  She just went along with what my dad said, as usual. 

The following school year, Mr. A. ended up moving to the next school with us because he got a job teaching P.E.  He was in my school system the whole time I was growing up.  I guess I eventually forgave him, but I never forgot and I think I lost some respect for him that day, too. 

Later that year, Mr. A. had us outside playing soccer. For some reason, he decided to play the game with us. He was a pretty big guy with a powerful kick. At one point, he kicked the soccer ball and it happened to hit me in the stomach, knocking the wind out of me. I was actually unconscious for a minute and woke up with my head between my knees. That incident was also very embarrassing and painful for me. I remember Mr. A., who was originally from upstate New York, saying “Sore-y” (sorry, but with a Canadian accent) and sending me to the nurse to lie down for a bit.

Mr. A. was also notorious for playing a game he called “slaughter ball”. Basically, it was like dodge ball, but kids would line up against a wall as other kids and Mr. A. himself would throw the ball at them as hard as they could. I don’t remember playing slaughter ball with Mr. A., but I knew people who had him for P.E. class and did experience that. Having been both “paddled” and knocked unconscious by him, I can believe he was an enthusiastic player. Too bad my parents didn’t care enough about me to complain.

Because of my experiences with corporal punishment, both at home and that one time at school, I’m pretty much against its use as a disciplinary tool. I definitely don’t think it’s appropriate for school officials– teachers or principals– to be hitting children that aren’t theirs, particularly if the parents haven’t granted permission. Given the mother’s reaction to her child’s discipline session, I’m guessing that she did not give Carter permission to discipline her child in such a violent and disrespectful manner. I think if that had been my child, I would have raised holy hell… but sadly, I suspect that if I had been the mother in that case, Carter would not have dared to use corporal punishment. I’m not an undocumented immigrant and I speak perfect English. But at least she didn’t do it in front of a classroom full of the child’s peers… On the other hand, mom videoed this session and gave it to the press, so in essence, her daughter was just paddled in front of the whole world.

Although I remember still liking Mr. A. when I was a child, that was probably because a lot of men I respected (back then) hurt me physically, mentally, or emotionally. I never considered what they did abuse until years later, when I crashed into depression and crippling anxiety, told my story to a licensed psychologist, and was informed that I actually had been abused. In fact, one of my neighbors sexually abused me by exposing me to pornography when I was about nine or ten years old. I started thinking about all of this stuff I had compartmentalized for years and my mindset really changed. My father’s go to punishment for me was spanking, slapping, and yelling. He continued to feel free to do it until I finally told him, as an adult, that he had no right. And then I threatened to have him arrested.

In April 2016, there was another well-publicized case about a child who was spanked at school by his principal. That case, which took place in Georgia, also involved a Hispanic child and a mother who disapproved, but went along with it because she was afraid of law enforcement. The mother, Shana Marie Perez, claimed she signed a consent form under duress to allow her then five year old son, Thomas, to be paddled for spitting and almost hitting another student. Perez was told that if the principal was not permitted to paddle Thomas, Thomas would be suspended. Perez had been arrested two weeks prior to the incident on truancy charges. She had been booked into jail and released. If Thomas got suspended and missed more school days, Perez feared that she would go to jail.

In the 2016 video Perez took of her son being spanked, viewers can see administrators trying to get Thomas to bend over for his spanking. Viewers can also hear him begging not to be spanked and calling for his mommy. The teachers try to hold him down, but he continues to struggle, putting his hands over his bottom and fighting. Trust has no doubt been broken at this point as one of the teachers says, “He’s going to get a spanking. We have all the time in the world.”

Brent Probinsky, the attorney for the Florida mother and her daughter, says the girl’s mom calls him twice a day because the child has been “terrorized” by what happened. She cries and doesn’t sleep. To be honest, watching that video, hearing that principal’s harsh tone and threatening words, and most of all, seeing her really rear back and hit the girl with a wooden paddle, makes me believe that the child was traumatized. Probinsky insists that this was aggravated battery and he’s hoping that Florida officials will strip the principal and the clerk of their licenses so they will no longer be able to work in Florida schools. At this point, both women are on leave.

It occurs to me that if an adult hits another adult, a case could easily be made for assault and battery charges. But for some reason, many people think it’s perfectly fine for adults to hit children. And children are never in a good position to defend themselves against adults. I stop short of saying that corporal punishment is never appropriate, but I definitely don’t think it should be something that is done in schools. At best, I think it’s a last resort solution that should be done very rarely. I’m not sure what will happen to Melissa Carter or Cecilia Self, but I do think it would be appropriate if both of them were permanently relieved of their positions.

I just don’t think that hitting children is the best way to get their respect. When I was a child and got hit by my father, all I remember is hating him and wanting to either hit him back or kill him. I don’t remember him ever taking the time to talk to me about things I did wrong. I just remember his face turning red, veins popping out, and being turned over his knee while he took out all of his frustrations. And now that I’m in my late 40s, I still don’t have a very high opinion of him, even though I know he wasn’t all bad. The truth is, those discipline sessions were not actually very disciplined at all. When he died, I didn’t shed many tears… and to this day, I lament the fact that he treated me the way he did. Maybe it’s a blessing I didn’t have children of my own to fuck up.

Standard
musings

Sunday School ditcher…

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.

Standard