In my fifth-grade year, I suddenly found myself receiving spankings at home that were frightening, embarrassing, and agonizing on a scale theretofore unknown in our family and even the small liberal town near Knoxville, Tennessee where we lived.
My parents had spanked my sister and I previously, but those punishments had been spontaneously delivered, over clothing, and scarcely memorable. The "new style" involved ritual and suffering. It involved waiting, marching outside out to the base of the yard in full view of neighbors, pulling down pants and underwear, and leaning against a tree with the bottom out for a highly memorable spanking or switching. These were events that make me blush to this day to recall.
So what was responsible for this "new style" of parental punishment? I quickly concluded that the new book my mother had received from an acquaintance was responsible. I snuck the book to bed at night and was captivated by what it had to say. I don't remember the name of the book, but it was written by "Focus on the Family" demagogue James Dobson (not related to the Fritz previously mentioned, I don't believe). A memorable anecdote of Dobson's from the text describes how he'd "sting his daughter's legs with a switch" for disobedience. Elsewhere online today, one can find other excerpts verbatim from Dobson's "spare the rod.." parenting advice. Use Google if interested; Don't miss the ones describing how he punishes his little 12-pound dog with a leather belt.
Anyway, my parents disowned Dobson's parenting style within months of having tried it out, but for me that was not soon enough. What's interesting (and perhaps tragic) about Dobson's parenting influence is that it is not limited to the small right-wing Christian culture that he's widely identified with today. My parents were, and remain, agnostic liberals. Our town was largely occupied by professionals in the service of a government scientific laboratory, not by Tennessee hillbillies. And yet, in the early '90s, these people were reading James Dobson, experimenting with his methods, and publicly switching their children to tears.
Spankings have not come up in family discussion AT ALL until very recently. I've been too embarrassed to bring it up, and my father's been likewise too embarrassed to bring it up. My sister brought it up once as an aside in a discussion about the "big tree" that stood at the foot of the yard, and my father said, "I'm sorry for spanking you kids." I'm not going to let him know that I've gotten to visiting boards like these as a nighttime hobby, that I relive those terrifying marches to the big tree in slow motion in my dreams. That would be way too hard on him. He's really not the ultimately responsible party: that would be James Dobson.
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