Tor Constantino is sharing an episode of abuse from his past in the wake of the recent arrests of two NFL players on child abuse charges.
The age-old debate of whether or not parents should spank their children as a form of punishment has been thrust in the national debate following the arrest of another NFL dad allegedly behaving badly. The latest is Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer, who’s been charged with two counts of aggravated assault against his 18-month old child.
That news has re-ignited the abuse debate on the heels of a felony child abuse indictment handed up against Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Petersen involving his four-year old son.
The reported details are shocking: leaves stuffed into the mouth of Peterson’s young son, while the boy was reportedly beaten with a whip-like tree branch around the legs, buttocks, and genitals.
Ironically, Petersen justified this type of behavior on the grounds that he sustained similar beatings growing up in the South.
I think that’s a sad rationalization for bad behavior, especially since I also experienced the same thing firsthand at the hands of my own parents.
Growing up, there was only one punishment that my parents meted out to me and that was spankings—because no other punishment changed my bad behaviors.
I was unfazed if sent to bed without dinner. In fact, being isolated in my room was a joy, since it was imposed sanctuary from my four other siblings—and I liked being alone.
Also, there were no material trappings that my parents could take away from me.
While we had a modest middle class upbringing in the 1970s, there were no “must have” diversions such as the Xbox, streaming Cartoon Network, or iPhone that my folks could ground me from.
It seemed that nothing worked for them, other than corporal punishment.
Spankings were the penalty of choice, and they administered dozens upon me while growing up—most were moderate-to-severe; however, there were a few instances that went well beyond a spanking.
One particularly brutal session occurred when I was eight.
I had been playing with an antenna on some guy’s car that was parked near our house when I accidentally broke it off. He saw me do it and took me to my house complaining to my folks about my reckless disregard for another person’s property. When grilled by my parents about why I did it, I lied and blamed it on my two best friends in the neighborhood—Tommy and Dwight. I lied because I didn’t want to get spanked.
My folks told me to walk to my friends’ homes and bring them both over to talk about the situation.
I did no such thing.
I actually walked around the block instead. When I got back to my house 10 minutes later, I told my parents that neither Tommy nor Dwight were home. Unbeknownst to me, my mom called both homes while I was on my walkabout. Dwight was sick in bed and Tommy was at his grandmother’s home when the antenna incident occurred.
At that point my parents became unglued and prophetically said I was going to get a spanking that I would “… never forget …” at which point my mother reached for the thick, 18” long wooden spoon (the preferred implement of punishment in my home).
As she reached for me, I yelled out that I really, really, really had to go to the bathroom.
So rather than deal with a spanking-induced mess all over the kitchen floor, they gave me a five-minute reprieve to relieve myself.
I ran upstairs took off my jeans, quickly pulled on eight pairs of underwear briefs overtop each other and squeezed back into my dungarees. I returned to the kitchen where they were both waiting. When the first swat landed on my backside it sounded like a textbook dropped on a table.
They both looked at each other, and my mother proceeded to remove my pants and subsequent pairs of padding as if she was peeling a giant onion.
When she got to my bare backside, she said, “You’re going to get it now.”
And I did.
After 20 or so whacks, I lost count of how many times my rear end, back of my thighs and right hand were struck as I kept reaching back to try to block each blow.
After each series of hits, they took turns yelling questions at me such as, “Are you ever going to lie again?” and “Will you ever blame someone else again?” I repeatedly screamed through the tears and pain that I wouldn’t do it again.
And then the strikes would resume.
Until that point in my life, I had never felt anything like it. It hurt like hell.
I was sent to bed for the night in the late afternoon that day. I tried to lay on my back in my bed as I sobbed, but the pressure on my rear and thighs hurt too much.
So I rolled to my stomach and soon cried myself to sleep. I woke a couple hours later and it was still light outside. As I tried to push off of the bed, my buttocks muscles and thighs were pulsing with pain and the back of my right hand had a large puffy, bluish-purple welt all the way across.
When I stood up, I didn’t know what I expected to see when I pulled my pants and briefs down to inspect the source of pain on my backside. As I twisted around to get a glimpse, my breath stopped in shock as I stared at my unrecognizable rear end.
It was covered in color.
It looked like I’d sat naked on a huge pile of purple, blue, and red sidewalk chalk dust.
I had never seen anything like it, nor have I since.
I was scared that it wouldn’t heal, and I wore long pants for weeks that summer until the bruises on the back of my legs faded.
I never told anyone about it, other than my wife, until this writing.
Despite this episode in my life, I had a good childhood and I know my parents truly loved me—they really did—but they were far from perfect.
They both apologized the next day for losing their collective cool. We also talked about how things had escalated because I first lied to their faces, then tried to blame it on my two best friends and subsequently sought to skirt my punishment by padding my pants.
At the time I thought I deserved that beating because I provoked my parents to it, but looking back as a parent myself—I know that’s simply not true.
There’s no provocation from a child that warrants that type of treatment.
I truly believe that my parents tried to teach me that actions have consequences, which sometimes include punishment.
However, what I have learned since is that there’s a difference between punishment and discipline.
Punishment carries a negative penalty to reduce or stop an unwanted behavior. Conversely, the term discipline is a derivative of the Latin word “disciple” which means to learn.
Ironically, the unintended lesson I learned was not to punish my kids but rather to discipline them.
We don’t punish in our household.
When it comes to discipline we strive for consistency over severity. We will quickly remove and temporarily place a badly-behaving kid in timeout so things don’t escalate.
Removal from the situation also eliminates an audience, which sometimes defuses a child’s tantrum instantly but always results in them calming down after a while. We are also quick to restrict their use of some toys, technology, or trinkets that they currently hold dear.
The most important thing we do is to establish clear guidelines for acceptable conduct as well as the sequence of consequences that will occur when those guidelines are crossed. Our kids know exactly what to expect. Ironically, it’s gotten easier as they’ve gotten older.
In fact, our older girls who know the rules of our home have helped accelerate the learning curve of our toddler by reinforcing those rules to him while they’re playing. Our son seems to be learning our discipline doctrine at a faster clip than our girls did at the same age, thanks to their modeling and positive reinforcement.
Don’t get me wrong, we certainly don’t get it right as parents all the time; however, I am certain about one thing—punishment is easier to administer than the difficult challenge of consistent discipline toward our kids.
But that’s the point of this whole article, to help parents learn the important lesson of choosing the difficult path of discipline rather than the easier, pain-filled path of punishment when tempers flare.
It’s a lesson I wish my parents had learned years ago—before I had to learn it the hard way at their own hands.