My son Boo got himself into some deep trouble a while back. I’ll spare you (and him) the details of his offence, but it was bad enough to warrant more than just a stern lecture. I’m not the type of parent to resort to spanking very much, but I do believe it is a vital and sometimes necessary disciplining technique. For Boo this was going to be his first go round with me being the disciplinarian. He had been spanked previously one time by his mother earlier in the year, so he knew the routine. After he was informed what his punishment was going to be he was banished to his room so he could sit and think about what was coming for a little while. The fear of an impending spanking is just a useful as the spanking itself, so getting it over with too quickly is a waste of good psychological torment. So I let him sit in his room for at least 30 minutes before I headed back there.
When I entered his room I was surprised to see that he was standing beside his bed waiting for me. He was expressionless except for a faint hint of what could be described as determination on his face. There was no whimpering, no tears, and no quivering lip. Nothing. This was definitely not what I had expected. And at that moment I flashed back to a time in my own childhood. Boo’s actions reminded me of a situation I once found myself in. It is a story my mother used to love to tell when she was alive, and thinking about it now reminds me as much of her as it does the circumstances.
Me and my two brothers used to fight all of the time. My older brother is 11 months older than me and my younger brother was three years younger. Both of them have always towered over me in stature.
One day after school, I think I was ten at the time, me and my brothers got into it. The reason for the fight was probably something minor and stupid, but first came the yelling, then the shoving back and forth which then disintegrated into a three man wrestling match. Our mom usually tuned out our horseplay and didn’t get involved, but this time an exceptionally hard push combined with tripping over a sneaker ended up with me colliding loudly with a wall and subsequently leaving a large dent in the wallboard. Going instantly to silent mode, we could hear her heavy footsteps as they approached the bedrooms from the other side of the house. Naturally she was livid. She didn’t even try to listen to my explanation of what had happened, instead sending us to our respective rooms and beds with the spine chilling closing line of, “wait until your father gets home!”
Being the head of a military family with three rambunctious boys should have been worth a college course credit in discipline. My father was fair, but firm with his punishment, and he got to practice it a lot. After years of trial and error he had settled on a wide black leather belt that he no longer wore as his implement of pain. He always wielded it with no malice and made sure we knew why we were having to suffer at the end of it. Even so, the dread we felt leading up to our eventual punishment was always mind numbing.
Just before nightfall I heard the car door of my father’s Buick clank shut outside and shortly thereafter the front door opened and closed. I could only hear the murmur of voices and I imagined my mother telling him the events of the day. A couple minutes later the unmistakable footfalls of my fathers dress shoes made there way down the hallway towards my room. He stuck his head into my room and said, “Follow me.” As expected, his expression was not favorable.
As I trailed him down the hallway to the room my brothers shared, staring at the infamous black leather belt sticking out of his back pants pocket.
In my brothers room I took a seat next to my younger brother on his bed as dad inspected the damage to the far wall. Both of my brothers looked like they had been crying and my younger brothers had his hands jammed beneath him. He was already protecting himself from the forthcoming blows.
When dad turned back towards us I think his face was a shade or two darker.
“Who hit the wall” he asked.
“I did,” I answered truthfully.
“Stand up,” he commanded. The three of us did as he asked and a barely audible moan seemed to emanate from my younger brother.
Then my dad did something he had never done before. He stood in front of my older brother and asked, “how many?”
Confused my brother replied, “huh?”
“I said how many,” my dad repeated.
My older brother thought for a moment and then answered in an unsure tone, “one?”
My dad nodded his head and then slowly turned around and faced my younger brother.
“How many,” he repeated the question to him.
My younger brother glanced briefly at my older brother and then replied, “one,” as well.
Then dad moved in front of me and stood silent for a minute. “How many?” he asked me.
I am not a fan of pain. Nor was I grooming myself to grow up to be some sort of Norma Rae. So I don’t know why I answered like I did, all I can do is plead temporary insanity.
“I want ten,” I answered defiantly.
“How many” he repeated, even though there was no mistaking my answer.
“I want ten,” I answered again, purposely not breaking eye contact.
We stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity. At first I thought his eyes were going to burn holes through my brain and the need for the belt would be moot, but slowly his eyes softened and I thought I caught the sparkle of a smile starting to form. Then he turned around and left the room.
The three of us just stood there staring at one another with dumb expressions on our faces. A few minutes later he returned. In his hands, instead of the black leather belt, was the cookie jar.
He reached into the jar and pulled out a single cookie and handed it to my older brother who took it slowly, still waiting for the other shoe to drop. Next he pulled another single cookie from the jar and handed it to my younger brother, who immediately started eating it. And to me, he handed ten chocolate chip cookies.
“You all will be doing chores for a month to pay for that wall,” he said as he walked out the door.
So as I entered Boo’s room and saw him standing there, bravely waiting to face the music, I thought of that story and how my mom loved to tell it.
And so I asked him, “how many?”
He seemed to think about this for a second and then he answered confidently, “five.”
I picked him up, gave him five kisses across his face, hugged him tightly and said, “You can thank your Grandpa for that one!”