Surrounded By My Two Greatest Achievements

When news of Adrian Peterson’s arrest for hitting his son with a “switch” was first revealed former NBA star Charles Barkley said ‘spanking’ or ‘whipping’ our kids was a southern black tradition. Whipping children is neither traditional amongst “southern black parents,” nor is it limited to that group. I should know. As a Jewish kid from Long Island I was regularly “whipped” by my Mom. Not spanked, that sounds too benign. Throughout my childhood, I was hit slapped, kicked— sometimes with a belt, sometimes with a hand or foot, sometimes with whatever was in arms reach. Most of the time the beatings did not leave a physical mark, although sometimes there were welts, scrapes etc.

At times, I would do my best to stay away from home for fear of what awaited. Other times I’d hide in my bedroom afraid for Mom to come home because permanent damage was to my psyche. It prevented me from making more than a few friends until later in life. As a child nobody wanted to hang with a kid with a of lack of self-confidence who would cry at the drop of the hat the other half.

Sometimes I joke that my Mom had the “quickest hand in the east.” There were times you couldn’t see her hand move but all of a sudden four finger marks would appear on my face, first they’d be white then quickly reddening. To this day (I am 57-years-old) when in an argument or debate I have to fight the worry that a smack is on it’s way.

Bill Cosby used to have a routine about his father’s belt. In the middle of the night there was always the scary dad one room over, who threatened to “come in with the belt” if they don’t keep quiet. Cosby would add “we had never seen the belt, but we had heard about it. The belt was nine feet long, eight feet wide, and it had hooks on it, and it would rip the meat off your body if it ever hit you.”

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Not surprisingly although a huge Bill Cosby fan growing up, that was the only routine I never laughed at—it hit too close to home. While Mom’s belt never “ripped meat off” my body—it did leave welts. Her beatings became a family joke. Mom had three sisters and they used to keep their kids in line by threatening to send them to live at my house for a weekend.

The beatings destroyed my self-confidence, something I still grapple with as an adult. Sometimes simple criticism is taken as an attack which certainly tracks back to my youth. My sometimes-explosive temper may another consequence of the days I was afraid to express myself in fear of a beat down.

In her later years my Mother, of blessed memory, said if she had to do it all over she would have done it differently–she said didn’t know better. I am sure that is true. Despite all the beatings, I loved my Mom very much and knew she loved me more than anything in the world. That does not excuse or condone what she did–it just is.

Charles Barkley isn’t totally wrong. His contention that severe beatings are indigenous to African-Americans who grew up in the south is foolish. But it is true that many parents (such as my Mom) “whip” their kids because it’s all they know. That is neither an excuse or a blessing of Adrian Peterson’s actions–it just is.

Suspending Adrian Peterson from playing football may make NFL advertisers and sports reporters-turned social commentators feel good. But the truth it wont help his kids. As my Mom and Charles Barkley each said, he doesn’t know any better. The And the only way to fix that is to teach him a different way.

When I entered parenthood 24-years ago the promise I made to myself was to “break the chain.” I would never “beat” my kids. My children will never understand what I went through because they will never experience that fear.

Except for the one time I slapped my daughter on the hand when she picked up a piece of glass at the playground and put it in her mouth, I kept that promise. That hand slap was followed by an hour of crying (she only cried for five minutes–I cried for an hour). My daughter never picked up a piece of glass again and more importantly I never hit her on the hand or anywhere else ever again.

I “broke the chain” of child-beating precisely because of a dread of seeing my kids go through my experience, but not everyone learns that way. If Adrian Peterson’s punishment is simply a feel-good NFL suspension it may satisfy pundits and advertisers, but the running back will learn nothing and the beatings will continue.