Even if you are not a fan of professional football, you know the name Adrian Peterson. He has been in the news over the past several months, and not for his prowess as a running back. Just this past week, we learned that he has been suspended without pay for the remainder of the season by the National Football League for violating the league’s personal conduct policy; a decision that Peterson may appeal.
As has appeared in the news, Peterson was indicted on felony charges of reckless or negligent injury to his child with what has been described as a “switch”. A number of people, most notably former NBA basketball player Charles Barkley, have weighed in on the manner in which Peterson disciplined his child. Barkley stated, “I’m from the South. I understand Boomer’s (Esiason, former pro quarterback and now a network color commentator) rage and anger…but he’s a White guy and I’m a Black guy. I don’t know where he’s from, I’m from the South. Whipping — we do that all the time. Every Black parent in the South is going to be in jail under those circumstances.”
Had Charles Barkley spoken to me or those from my generation, he would have learned that disciplining children with some type of object was not limited to the South; it was also commonplace here in the North. I saw the photographs depicting welts and bruises on Peterson’s child. They were disturbing and Peterson apparently went too far. I will tell you that I was the recipient of many whippings; my father was an old-school disciplinarian. I recognize that I am going down a delicate path with this column, but I will tell you that the corporal punishment, many of us received, paid significant dividends that helped to keep us on the straight and narrow, back in the day and has been important in shaping how we behave today.
I focused on my thoughts on disciplining children in a back in the day column in 2004. Some of those thoughts will be repeated in this column. Back then, I indicated that I recognized that it is not is not appropriate in this day and age to put one’s foot up a child’s posterior as a form of discipline. The practices our grandparents and parents used in the past are viewed today as barbaric. Today, we are supposed, if not required, given the laws that protect children from abuse, to reason with our children. You have read and heard of accounts of children reporting their parents to the authorities for aggressive discipline. Psychologists have pushed the view that corporal punishment against children causes them to be scarred psychologically, emotionally and physically. It has been suggested that the victims of corporal punishment, in return, administer corporal punishment to their children once they become parents.
Such caution in the behavior of parents has been carried over to our schools. Some of you recall how teachers responded when we misbehaved in school years ago. It was more than the suspensions of today. Back then, the ruler was more than a measuring stick. “Make a fist,” was a common command by teachers. While the pulling of a student’s ear was also popular in school, pulling one by the collar to go outside in the hallway for a “get in your face talk” was also very popular. When you were disciplined in school, you avoided at all costs telling your parents. If you did, you received a major beating at home. Unfortunately, too many parents view being strong disciplinarians as being out of step with today’s standards related to the rearing of children. Some years ago, I gave a speech at a middle school in South Jersey which was an indication of parent’s support for strong discipline. You would have thought that we were at a church revival service. Parents rose to their feet as I proclaimed that parents must take control of their households. They cheered their approval when I told them that I was sick and tired of parents coming to the school administrative offices demanding that teachers do for their youngsters what they cannot do themselves.
There were four individuals who were extremely important in my growth and development: Leon H. Sullivan, the founder of Opportunities Industrialization Centers (OIC); Thomas J. Ritter, the first executive director of the Philadelphia OIC; Lawrence Reddick, Martin Luther King Jr.’s official biographer; and Kenneth A. Gibson, Newark, New Jersey’s first Black mayor. While these men were very important to me, without a doubt, the most significant figure in my life was and will forever be my father. My love for my father and his influence in my life is apparent in many of my columns. I have no question now nor did I ever have any doubt about his love for me. But, with all the love that he showered on me as a child, he would not hesitate to instill discipline and respect in me through good, old fashioned beatings; beatings that probably came close to the beating administered by Adrian Peterson to his son; the kind of beatings many of us received, back in the day.
Before continuing this journey, I want to point out that I am not advocating beating children. I do believe, however, that children must follow the rules that are established by parents, guardians, teachers and other figures of authority or face consequences. Apparently, the measures taken today to keep children in line, are not working. But, those seemingly barbaric measures that many of us faced had a positive impact, back in the day.
My father knew how to give my siblings and me one of those beatings that you would never forget and would not want to experience again in the future. He wore one of those big, thick belts. He had a unique ability to quickly pull his belt through the loops and swinging at the same time. I would start crying before the first swing found its target. My father’s licks could be felt through a snowsuit; one beating while wearing a snowsuit is a beating that I will always remember. Then, there were those beatings that all of the children received when wrong things were done and no one would confess or tell who did it. While my father administered major beatings, thank God his beatings were with a regular belt. Back in the day, there were some fathers who gave beatings with belts that were doubled. I thank God that my father was not a police officer; I understand from one of my friends whose father was a police officer that a beating with a police officers belt is unquestionably, a major “whuppin.”
My dear father was more civil than some fathers that I knew and gave me beatings that were a bit more acceptable, back in the day. There were friends of mine who received beatings with an iron cord. The iron cord beating was usually impromptu; your mother may have been ironing clothes and upon entering the room, because of his anger and because of what you had done, your father would grab the nearest thing to him. In too many cases it was the iron cord. Back in the day, the iron cord was not permanently attached to iron; it could be disconnected and what a whipping came from the iron cord. A close second behind the iron cord was the extension cord. One of my co-workers shared with me the favorite manner in which her father would beat her and her siblings. Her father would grab a strap, the type that barbers used to sharpen their razors; tell whoever was being disciplined to take off their clothing as he did not want to beat his money, referring to the clothing that was being worn. Had there been an agency for child abuse, back then, a lot of people would have ended up in serious trouble like Adrian Peterson. The close line was another favorite of our fathers. But, our mothers also did a credible job in beating their children, usually with a shoe, back in the day.
Not all discipline involved physical force. Most of us have heard these words before, “As long as you live under my roof your will do as I say.” Or, were these words more frequently spoken? “Don’t give me that look.” Were you taken into the bathroom and given a cup of soapy water to wash out your mouth because of using profanity? Then there were the words that brought fear into our hearts, “I brought you into this world and I’ll take you out.” No, it wasn’t a beating that was the only way that children learned who was in charge as well as what they could or could not do. I cannot tell you the last time I heard someone say that they were “on punishment.” Some of you recall arranging to go out with a friend, only to find out that they could not go with you because the friend was on punishment. This also meant no telephone calls, no television or simply being sent to your room to be alone. The one comment that signaled potential trouble down the road if your behavior did not change was, “You are getting too big for your britches.” Why these things work in the past and seemingly nothing works today is very simple; parents had enough guts to make demands like these on young people, back in the day and they held young people accountable.
Well, these days are gone. We are expected to engage in discipline in the so-called modern way. It is not only politically correct to discipline children with force; it is also against the law. So, what we have unfortunately, is what we see; too many of our young people who lack respect for themselves as well as lacking respect for those who are suppose to be in charge. While we could never return to the ways in which we disciplined in the past for fear of being another Adrian Peterson, we can at least return to embracing the principle of discipline that was so integral to Black family and community life, back in the day.