Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Necessary roughness?

This Creflo Dollar thing is really bugging the crap out of me.  For those who don't know, Dollar is the pastor and founder of an Atlanta mega church. He's feeding his flock a steady diet of prosperity theology which, if nothing else, is prospering him mightily. He seems also to have won their undying support. Few seem willing to question whether anything his daughter reported to the police last weekend merits further scrutiny.

Last weekend, Dollar was arrested after his daughter called the police. There was some sort of confrontation, which, she alleges resulted in him shoving her to the floor, punching her and beating her with a shoe. [This image is particularly troubling to me, the beating with the shoe, as in my country upraised shoes are typically being wielded against invading cockroaches. Makes me wonder if he sees his child as nothing more than a nasty little bug, but I digress.] I know not whether the girl made the entire event up. Let me state that at the outset. What is deeply troubling to me, is this idea which I see so often online, that he has the right to discipline his child in the ways that were described.

It is extremely troubling to me that anyone would think that punching, throwing to the floor and beating with a shoe, are somehow acceptable forms of punishment. "These young people these days! Ya'll don't know!" is pretty much the tone of the responses. Sorry folks, I'm not joining you there. There are ways to discipline that do not involve fists to faces or other forms of physical violence. Even when you're dealing with hormonal teens. I'm quite sure of it.

I have myself seen a little of the dark side of parenting.

While a student at a very posh college in upstate NY in the mid-eighties, I spent several months at my (biological) father's home while he pretended to figure out how he would pay my fees. I lived in a house that was under construction: the kitchen was incomplete; I had no bedroom; the bathroom was incomplete; there were mice and there was no heat. I had no resources of my own and was entirely at his mercy, not unlike most children are.  I was a total shut in. I was an immigrant so I suppose I could have just gone home, but with the hopefulness of youth, I was anticipating a happy outcome and an eventual return to Poughkeepsie. Neither happened.

One of the few 'conversations' we had ended with him bellowing at me, "I don't know what the F@#$ you and your mother want from me!" Not long after that I took to sleeping with a knife under the couch. I won't regale you with the stories of the two doberman pinschers he had housed upstairs, in perpetual fear of whom I lived. Boring stuff. Suffice to say that the story of young Ms. Dollar makes more sense to me than it should and the refusal of onlookers to consider the consequences to her of the behavior she alleges, boggles my mind. My 'abuse' was not physical. My male parent never laid a hand on me. That did not, however, prevent me from being very afraid of him. Justifiably so.

I have no idea what actually occurred in the Dollar household. None of us does. What I do know is that to every parent and onlooker who claims that they are a fan of physical violence against children, I say this: emotional and physical violence do permanent damage. If you were raised in this way, this may be hard to hear since it means that damage was done to you, but that is the truth. The fact that you have successfully overcome it, either by papering it over or by properly healing the broken places, doesn't mean that brokenness did not result from the treatment. Why do you then wish it on your own? The world will find ways to break your children, do you really need to participate?

I fear for the day when the phone will ring and someone will say to me, "Your father needs you." What will I do then? I have no earthly idea. Brutalize your children if you must, but remember that door swings both ways. When the time comes that these abused children become your only link to the world, what then? Will you expect from them that which you were unprepared to dole out?

There is no 'necessary roughness' in child-rearing. Love is not a full contact sport, at least not that kind of contact. If you think it is, or should be, come talk to me. I'll tell you the rest of my story. Maybe.

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