Sunday, September 5, 2010

And the Moral Is ... ?

I am not a modern-day parent. I am Old School. Or some bizarre kind of PC time-tempered version of said Old School. I grew up believing that my parents' word was Law. I may have questioned--mentally--but I would never, ever verbalize those questions. Hell, growing up, I was raised to not even look like I was questioning that Law. Or else there would have been hell to pay.

I can even remember the first time I went to a white friend's house and being shocked and horrified when I saw that white friend not only question his parents but his actually yelling back at his parents and even cursing at them. And then I think my eight-year-old heart actually went into cardiac arrest when the parents not only didn't whup the boy unconscious but just ... just ... they just ignored the little brat. I was so shocked and disgusted, I briefly contemplated taking off my own belt and whipping the little snot for them.

It wasn't like I was abused, or anything. I don't even remember being hit all that often. Now, as a parent, I realize that I wasn't hit nearly as often as any parent--no matter how pacifistic--wants to actually hit their child. I guess I was lucky. But you couldn't tell me that. The belief that my folks would hit me was always there. The threat always loomed. It pretty much always kept me in line.

I've talked to many white folks about these things who have literally blanched in horror at my affectionate tales of childhood fright. Who want to bring parents like mine up on charges at the Hague. Many have felt that the physical punishment and/or the incredibly severe groundings (one summer I spent the entire month of June in-doors because I dissed one friend in order to hang out with some other "cooler" friends--and girls!) should be listed as crimes against humanity. After all, kids will be kids.

On the other hand, I dont' know of a single black friend in my middle-/upper-middle-class world who was not raised similarly. It's not as though our parents were closet fascists or sadists. It's not as though they did not understand that "kids will be kids." That kids often misbehave. Everybody knows that they do. Hell, kids push boundaries all the time. That's their job. It's part of the socialization process. It is often how they test our love for them.

The thing is that white kids will be kids when they misbehave. Black kids will be treated as criminals. It's one of those ugly little statistical race facts no one really likes to talk about. The rates of criminality between white and blacks kids are roughly the same. It's just that where white kids may simply get a slap on the wrist, black kids get handcuffs slapped on those very same bones.

And black parenting reflects that disparity. Their punishments are exceedingly harsh because Uncle Sam can be a real mother on our children.

My wife used to often regale me with tales of one white kid whose (non)rap sheet made my skin turn white. One of his feats was actually stealing dynamite from a construction site in high school. I kept thinking, if that had been me, they would've thrown me under the jail. And could you imagine what would've happened to Little Muhammad if he'd have done the same thing? We'd still be looking for his body.

See, the way I was raised, there is nothing worse than a misbehaved child. Nothing more dangerous than that kind of child running around rabid--like s/he's been raised by a pack of wolves. More often than not, a bad-ass kid will turn into a dead-ass teen. And we must do everything in our power to avoid such future tragedy.

Of course, I know I can't raise my daughter in the exact same way I was raised. (Pooh will be happy to know that her great-grandmother is not around to give her the switch--though I'm sure they would've gotten along swimmingly.) In fact, when I talk to other black fathers, I often ask how they negotiate the differences between the New and Old Schools of modern-day black parenting. It's not as though I'm really an advocate for corporal punishment--but I ain't exactly against it either. Truth be told, I really can't see myself raising my hand to a child, but there are times ... well, yall know what I'm talking about.

See, this past week, Pooh's really been feeling her oats. I'm lucky. She usually chooses to lose her mind with her Mommy. Usually, her brain stays attached to her spinal cord when Daddy's around (though there was this time in the supermarket when I thought we both were going to wind up permanently lobotomized). But this week ... well, the Terrible Twos have announced that they will be staying well into Pooh's third year of life.

The conflict was over the bathroom sink (a situation only parents of toddlers can understand). She was washing up after going to the potty. Mommy and I were talking in the bedroom when we realized that the water was bubbling up in the sink. I went to investigate, thinking Pooh pulled the stopper. Nope, the sink was clogged. Yay! Home ownership!

I turned off the faucet to let the water drain. My darling, little daughter proceeded to turn into a mothershrieking wildebeest!

She starts yelling. She starts screaming. She starts crying. She turns cherry red. She grits her teeth until her entire body shakes. She hits me!

Aw, hell naw...

I calmly--yes, calmly--turned to my wife to investigate an absolutely alien concept in discipline that I know she practices but is waaaayyyyy to foreign to me.

"So," I ask, "how exactly does this whole 'Time Out' thing work again?"

"You leave her in her room alone and close the door behind you," Mrs. Thrope informs.

Sounds wacky, but I'm willing to give it a try. Pooh keeps yelling, keeps screaming, keeps hitting me.

"She really hates Time Out, though," Mrs. Thrope continues.

"Not as much as she'd hate an ass-whuppin', she don't," I counter, getting all Ol' Timey Negro on everybody while carrying our little slapping dervish. "All right, you're getting a Time Out, Pooh," I inform.

Oooh, you thought the child was crazy before ...

Well, I deposited the kid in her room and closed the door. Mrs. Thrope appeared with a watch.

"They get a minute for every year of life," she said.

"OK," I shrugged. "Are you sure we just can't keep her in there until she graduates from high school?"

"And how would she graduate?"

"Home-schooling. Duh!"

One hundred twenty seconds wail on by. I open the door.

"Now, give Daddy a hug," Mommy instructs.


"You're supposed to give her a hug afterwards," my wife says. "Show that you still love her."

Hm. Love. Punishment. Love after Punishment. Love is Punishment. Punishment is Love. A whole slew of fetishes suddenly makes sense to me.


We hug. Then Pooh and Mommy hug.

"And what's the moral of this whole ordeal, Daddy?" Mrs. Thrope asks.

"What?" I ask, utterly confounded.

"After each Time Out I tell Pooh the reason she received the Time Out in the first place," she tells me. "I tell her the moral. So, what is the moral, Daddy?"

I confess, I was more than a little baffled. I'm still not exactly sure what this whole Time Out business accomplishes anyway. I'll admit, it does seem to work. The kid was properly admonished. But now, this? Here I am, trying to wrap my head around this newfangled, PC non-corporal punishment, and now I gotta come up with a moral on top of it all. What do I look like? Aesop?

"So, what is it, Daddy?" my wife asks, expectantly. Pooh's doe eyes illuminate, looking for enlightenment.

"Uh ..." I struggle. "In olden times ... Daddy woulda whupped your ass?"

Yeah. That one didn't go over too well. Guess I have my work cut out for me. Don't I?


  1. Hey, great post! You took me back to the days when mine were Pooh's age. Don't miss those terrible twos at all...

  2. Some days I miss the terrible twos, I have two going through hormonal puberty rage. I might have to build myself a garden shed.

  3. This is a fascinating post. Thank for putting it like that. It was illuminating. There WAS a moral.

  4. Good post. My wife and I were raised on the belt, but have a 19 and 15 year old that have never been hit by adults. Thought you might want to know, they came out well. Time outs worked on the girl (19) but not the boy (16). I would have to look at him like I was going to beat him, and that always got him into line. The bit about the law is still on target.

  5. Great post. I grew up a military brat - you can bet I got my ass whupped many a time. If it was my mother doing the whupping it was generally with her hand or a belt. If it was my dad it was the jump boot or the utility belt. I can also state I never talked back to either of my parents and I cringe myself when I see kids disrespecting their parents.

    I have 2 sets of kids - (the result of two marriages) - the older one's, who are all grown up now - got ass whuppins. My little one's get time outs. I wasn't a big fan of time outs either - but - it does seem to be more effective.

  6. Ummm. Dude. That belt buckle stings when it hits the small of the back. I know. Mouthing off never got me anything but thrown through a door with French slats, ass first.