When I fail as a father or grandfather (and it is often) I think back to Daddy and how he worked constantly to make sure his children were taken care of. On the other hand – and I mean “hand” literally – he had a swift manner of enforcing discipline when needed.
That was to be expected at that time in America, but it is a luxury I don’t have today to get a point across. When I started dating JoAn, each of us had a toddler. She saw that I would spank Thomas if he misbehaved and so one day mentioned that she had never laid a hand on her children.
“But that’s the way we grew up,” I said. “I knew that if I misbehaved, I would catch a whipping at school and another one – or two – from Mama and Daddy when I got home.”
“And so you never misbehaved?”
“Well, no, I did. Spanking was not so scary that it kept me in line; the death penalty doesn’t deter every killer.”
“I remember that it just made me angrier,” she said.
After that, I strove to be more like her, and in fact never spanked again. I can’t say that it yielded perfect results, but it certainly saved wear and tear on my spanking hand.
Today, as my son approaches the birth of his first child, he and I have no compunction about exchanging “I love yous” and we smile as we remember the times late in my father’s life that we all sat on the porch and Tommy learned to whittle from the same hands that had, when I was a youngster, dealt out manual discipline with no thought that there might be other ways of interacting as father and son.
My father had seven children to discipline and had grown up in a house of that many siblings or more. His childhood was similar to, but much more grueling than, the one he passed on to me: a houseful of youngsters; the Great Depression; parents even more accepting of the norms that physical punishment was just what the doctor ordered.
My father was very much a product of his times, and for that I have tried to keep in perspective that we had no close personal relationship. His life was laid out for him early: to work hard, to keep his family together, to sacrifice his own plans.
I tried to help him with minor chores, but early on I saw that to live to work another day I had to steer clear of his impatient throwing hand. Incoming wrench! Rock! My mechanical skills are lacking today because I couldn’t stay close enough around the ailing Chevy to learn the rudiments.
He had not been taught to be touchy-feely. I remember that whenever I’m showing my grandchildren something about cars or machinery; they should have a chance to develop without requiring Band-Aids.
Still, I picked up much from Daddy. Learning often comes from watching the man, if only from a distance.
I wish he were still here, and in a few days I would shake his hand – that hand – and proudly say, “Happy Father’s Day
Reach Glynn Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org.