Growing up in central Alabama I have been no stranger to a “whooping” every now and again.
There were times when I was out with my family at a movie or at the grocery store that I “acted up”. That’s a southern term for misbehaving not to be confused with “acting a fool” which is a whole lot worse. If the “acting up” occurred in a public place it would usually mean a lick. If the offense happened in a restaurant where people were trying to enjoy a meal it might have meant two or three licks. If I was brash enough to “act up” during church then the punishment was usually at least five licks and it was probable that I was going to get them in the parking lot.
My dad had a big, thick leather belt that hung on the inside of his closet door. Now, he had a whole lot of belts. Many of them were dress belts meant to be worn with a suit on Sunday morning. Some of them were way out of style and he hadn’t worn them in years but they still hung there. But that one belt that he wore most of the time was the one that was referred to as “The Belt”.
If I had “acted up” then chances were that once I got home my dad would look at me and say “Go get The Belt.”
There were times that I tried to be a little sneaky and I went to get one of his more flimsy belts that was made of some kind of cloth. That didn’t do anything but add another lick to my sentence. But once my dad had his belt in his hand he would hold my arm and we’d do the dance. The dance was where I ran in a circle while he spun in one place and wore my little tail out.
The only thing that was worse than getting a “whooping” with The Belt was getting “switched”. This was usually done by my grandmother. She had a big bush in her yard that was known as the “Switch Tree”. If I “acted up” at her house then she would go over to the bush and pull off a switch. A switch is basically a branch. They’re usually about a foot long and very thin and flexible. And while a “whooping” was usually aimed at your butt…a “switching” was aimed at your legs, especially if you were wearing shorts which I usually was.
And, of course, in school we would get a “paddling”. That was when you “acted up” at school and the teacher would take you out into the hall, make you bend over and touch your toes, and then hit you on the behind with a flat piece of board about eight inches wide. Usually there was an echo in the empty corridor and most of the school would hear when somebody got one. One teacher in particular had the shop teacher make him a special paddle with holes drilled in it to cut down on air resistance. He stuck a cork in one of the holes and made game out of seeing if he could hit a student’s backside hard enough to pop the cork out.
Are you horrified yet? Take it easy. This wasn’t abuse. I’ve heard stories of abuse and that’s not what we experienced. No one was hitting us with their fists. No one was making me take off my shirt and whipping me on my back with anything. I wasn’t burned with cigarettes.
This is the way our parents were raised. It was what they believed and it was a belief that they passed down to me. I was raised with the belief that if you “spare the rod you spoil the child”. When I grew up and had children of my own I did it as well. When one of my kids “acted up” they would get a swat on the behind or if it was bad enough I would use “The Belt”.
And I regret it.
I regret every “whooping” my kids because now that one of them is eighteen and the other is fifteen I realize that none of it was necessary. None of it made my kids behave more. None of it changed the way they acted. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure that if I hadn’t done it then I would have been a much better parent.
I’m saying all of this today because I read a story where Pat Robertson of the 700 Club made a comment about “sparing the rod” in which he said that kids that aren’t religious need to be taken to the woodshed. It got me thinking about that old saying.
First of all, being raised in a church environment I was told that it was in the Bible. It’s not. Nowhere in the Bible does it say “spare the rod and spoil the child”. The closest that it comes is in Proverbs where it says something along the lines of "Those who spare the rod, hate their children, but the one who loves their child disciplines them diligently." Then I thought about the passage from Psalms that says “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me”.
I’m something of an internet guru so I did a little Google search and I’ve come to this decision. Those passages have nothing to do with “whooping” your kids. The staff that a shepherd used to use had a hook on it to grab a sheep and pull it away from danger. The rod was used to corral the sheep where they needed to be. It wasn’t a tool used to beat sheep.
In other words, we’re supposed to discipline our children…not hit them. All those years growing up that I was taught that suddenly seem so fruitless. And all those times that I took a belt and struck my children instead of finding another way to discipline them have me feeling remorseful.
I’m mourning the absence of my parenting skills. I’m wishing that I could have done better by my kids. I love them with all of my heart and I see now that I could have been a much better dad. I could have used my brain to come up with better ways to cope with their misbehaving and actually taught them something. Instead, I took an easy route and used a belt or a switch. It was lazy parenting and caused nothing but hurt feeling and fear.
So, yeah, if I had it all to do over again I wouldn’t do it. And I truly regret every time that it happened.