Thursday, October 23, 2008

Corporal Punishment

When I was growing up in the fifties, the subject was not a contentious one. You were the child, they were the adults - and what they said was the law! If you were inclined to break their laws, you were punished.

I don't recall ever hearing the term 'Corporal Punishment' back then; the term is probably a precursor to the sentiments that led to today's notions of "political correctness."

Inasmuch, those of us known as "Baby Boomers" grew up having learned one very important rule and that was to respect one's elders. If we didn't - we got a whoopin'. Depending on your interpretation, doesn't it say in the Bible: Spare the rod and spoil the children?

I can't honestly say that I subscribe to the form of punishment my parents exacted upon my gluteus maximus for my transgressions, but by golly I was well educated in the differences between right and wrong!

My friends and I knew that there were only two ways to avoid punishment:
1) Stay out of trouble
2) Don't get caught
Inevitably there would be times that those two rules were ignored. We might not have seen the analogy at the time, but at an early age we were experiencing the elementary workings of our Judicial System.
(a) The crime: broken window, property posted 'No Trespassing'
(b) The charges: The owner calls your home.
(c) Indictment: "You're in trouble now."
(d) Adjudication: "Wait till your father gets home!"
(e) Sentence: Grounded until executioner arrives.
(f) Execution: To be determined (see (d) and (e) )
Nothing filled me with dread and fear more than that long wait until my father would arrive home from work. My father may not have been wearing a black hood like the stereotypical executioners in the movies, but his punishments were doled out swiftly and painfully.

There were no racks, broad axes or guillotines in his arsenal of penal devices, but those he used were effective nonetheless. Looking back, I realize that his choices of instruments were not randomly determined but were brought into play based upon his perceptions of the severity of the crimes.
The wooden paddle was brought to bear for the minor infractions.

When he removed his belt my misdeed was deemed a felony.

For capital transgressions, he would hand me his pocket knife. I knew that meant I was to go outside to cut off a switch from the saplings growing around the base of a large hickory tree next to our house.
Fast forwarding the clocks ahead to the present, those forms of Corporal Punishment would land a parent in jail charged with child abuse. The children living under the same roof of a parent who uses physical punishment would invariably be removed from the home.

No, I never subscribed to that form of punishment, especially for my own daughter. We instilled in her the knowledge of what is right and what is wrong. We taught her to respect her elders, inside and outside of our home. You know, she turned out all right.

I found the image above on the net and it "hauntingly" reminded me of an incident I observed in a supermarket a couple of summers ago. A woman dressed very much like the one in the picture was shopping with her daughter who was probably about six or seven years old.

Her appearance was that of a "trailer park queen" wearing a sun dress with a generous amount of cleavage visible, layers of makeup befitting Tammy Faye Baker, fishnet stockings and spiked heels. A trail of cheap perfume wafted behind her as she made her way through the store.

They stopped to look at a display of patriotic items on sale for the up-coming 4th of July holiday weekend. The woman picked up a couple of items, turned them over to check the price tag and then placed them back on the shelf. (I assumed that maybe the items were pricey enough that the expenditure might cut into her fashion budget.)

The little girl picked a small teddy bear clad in a red, white and blue shirt. She held it up for her mother to see, maybe to implore if she would buy it for her. Without warning the mother snatched it from her hand and began to go off into a verbal tirade.

Then, apparently oblivious to the fact that she was in public place in full view of several witnesses, she slapped the girl across her face. Not satisfied that her daughter had gotten the message, she produced a large hair brush from an over-sized bag hanging from her shoulder. There was a chorus of gasps from those observing the scene as she literally yanked the poor girl's underpants down to her knees. Six times she struck the screaming child's bare bottom with the brush.

Moments later she was again pushing a shopping cart, the girl sobbing in tow, and she continued her shopping chore as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. One of the witnesses had only moments before notified a policeman who was on duty in the store.

When I left the store with my purchases, I noticed the officer was talking to her near the other entrance to the store. She was animated, obviously agitated, and the little girl was standing close to her with an arm wrapped around her mother's legs.

I don't know what happened after that; whether she was cited or let go with a warning. I do remember at the time fearing for that little girl's well being. Stumbling across the image, I had to wonder how he is today.

Could it be that finding that picture, was a sign for me to author this post today to atone for not writing about it two summers ago? Perhaps, it gives me another opportunity to bring to light that there is punishment and there is abuse. There is no fine line separating the two.

I cannot condone the actions of parents who practice the same form of Corporal Punishment my father employed on my siblings and me, but on the same token I would never try to tell them how to keep their children in line. I would not admonish someone punishing their child in a public place. There are more than enough people out there who would report a parent for simply smacking the hand of their kid for touching items on a shelf.

Yes, many of us Baby Boomers had to endure physical punishment, not only at home, but at school as well. The Board of Education had a double meaning back then. Guess what. By and large most of us turned out to be fine upstanding folks. We learned it the old fashioned way - we earned it!

You might say we were also the Timex Generation. We took a lickin' and kept on tickin'.



kenju said...

I had to cut my own "switch" and bring it to my mom. Oh, the indignity!!

P.S. My word verification is


74WIXYgrad said...

Problem is that there too many so called "do gooders" who feel that they are the parent police, plain clothes division.

A parent nowadays cannot administer discipline to their misbehaving children in public for fear of being "busted."

Skunkfeathers said...

I underwent what is today called "corporal punishment". I didn't turn out to be an ax murderer or work for the postal service ;)

Peter said...

To soothe an agitated child try brushing their hair... if this doesn't work, try the other end of the brush on the other end of the child!!!!!!

Peter said...

I had to add to that comment just so I could type in the word verification.... PEWARD...
(what you get for misbehavin' and gettin' your bum smacked.)

Hale McKay said...


I hear ya. There was indignity in having to cut your own switch. You had to make sure it was a "good" one too, otherwise you'd be sent marching back out for another.

Hale McKay said...


You are so right. It's a sad commentary on our society that others decide what is and isn't best for our kids.

Hale McKay said...


Same here. I don't think I turned out so bad.

Hale McKay said...


I remember a Porky Pig cartoon where Porky baby sits a "Rosie the Riveter"-type of character's baby named "just plain Butch."

The mother gave him a book to use about how to discipline children. He follows the book to the letter but has no luck and the kid terrorizes him.

The mother returns, turns the kid over her knee and using the book to spank the kid says, "It always works for me."

Hale McKay said...


LOL. Good catch and definition.