September 22, 2014

Why I’m Glad My Father Beat Me


I don’t remember the first time it happened, but I do remember that it happened repeatedly.

He used to hold it by the feathers and show me the wooden handle. It was slim and flimsy, but the sound it made when it hit my skin resonated like that of a bull whip. If it snapped in half, my father would find something else: a metal coat hanger, a belt, or basically anything that would instill temporary fear in me.

Before you begin to judge my father, let me say that I, alone, should have that right. Not you. Not my friends. Not my cousins. Too often I come across critics who think they’re the chief authority on parenting. We know what works because we’ve done the research. We’ve met people who have gone through similar childhoods, and they’re all messed up. To them, I say this: Your studies don’t speak for me, so keep your opinions to yourself.

Given the controversy surrounding NFL player Adrian Peterson, I don’t expect everyone to fully understand the story I’m about to tell. The Pro Bowl running back, who currently faces charges of child abuse, allegedly beat his four-year-old son with a switch in May, a punishment I even find horrifying. But I’m telling my story because I’ve seen critics use this extreme case to prove that corporal discipline usually results in resentment towards one’s parents.

To a degree, that claim may be true. Excessive punishment can lead to bodily scars and an uncontrolled anger, which, in turn, can manifest itself in many ways, from a desire for revenge to a strong feeling of vulnerability. But, in my case and perhaps in that of many others, physical punishment can also lead to an appreciation for our parents. Let me explain.

When I was young, I was like many other children. I had a problem with authority. Sometimes, I would get into fights with classmates, despite being warned repeatedly by my teachers that I would suffer the consequences. I wouldn’t care until they called my parents. My mother, who never once laid her hands on me, would then try to calmly reason with me, but I would take advantage of her patience by rudely dismissing her.

My father, however, knew how to shut me up. He would first raise his voice and then begin a countdown. If I didn’t apologize or obey him by the time he counted to zero, he would threaten me with a feather duster. Most of the time, I would stupidly test him by wailing and crying relentlessly. He wouldn’t care. Tears didn’t mean much to him, and he made sure I understood that.

If I talked back, my father would beat me into submission. The punishment became so commonplace that one day my neighbors upstairs confronted him about it. They used to hear me cry as he whipped me repeatedly. One time, they saw me bawl my eyes out as I sat alone on the stairs. They thought my father’s methods were too severe. He, however, believed that he was only following family tradition. His father used to beat him, and I apparently deserved that same fate. If I did something wrong, I would get hit. If I cried when getting hit, I would get hit even harder. It was a cycle that never seemed to end.

Had my father taken a more lenient approach during my childhood, I probably would have been a different person. And not for the better. I would have most likely continued to disrespect my mother, fail school and get into fights. I was that reckless. In a way, corporal discipline saved me.

Looking back, I don’t blame my father for what he did. I deserved most of those beatings. Some may say that my familiarness with physical punishment is clouding my judgment, but I truly believe that my father raised me with the best intentions. He always wanted me to succeed. When I got a B on an exam, he would ask why I didn’t get an A. When I got an A, he would ask why I didn’t get an A plus. His incessant nagging made me set higher expectations for myself. He knew I could do better, and, over time, I started to believe him. The whippings were merely a means of motivation - something I desperately needed at a young age - and they worked.

Today, my father and I laugh about those rough days with friends and family. Weirdly enough, I wear my childhood like a badge of pride. When I see entitled children freely curse or punch their parents, I seriously wonder how they’ll turn out years from now. My guess? Their future won’t be too bright, unless, by the grace of some higher being, they change their attitude.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying corporal punishment is the answer to every child’s problem. Heck, it should never be the first option of discipline. Yet, I don’t think anybody should have the right to question whether someone who uses it (like my father) is fit to be a parent, unless he or she knows the complete story. My upbringing may have been tougher than yours, but I’m okay with it. You should be, too.