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All it took was The Look and The Paddle - Jason Smith

I love it when lawmakers attempt to do dumb things. It gives me something to write about.

I had been struggling for a while to find something to write a column about for this week, when I happened upon a story that would have made me pound my head against a wall, if only there were one nearby.

In Massachusetts, a petition will be brought before the state legislature today in favor of punishing parents in that state for spanking their children. The proposal, filed on behalf of a nurse, would prohibit a parent from laying a hand on a child under 18, unless the parent is attempting to keep the child out of danger.

I wasn't a bad child when I was growing up. In fact, I know for certain that my little sister and I, combined, didn't get into trouble with my parents nearly as much as our older brother did. In many cases, all I needed to keep me from doing something wrong was the threat that I was going to "get it" when I got home. That being said, she and I both received our share of spankings when we ran afoul of the rules at home. The three of us were never abused, and there were definitely occasions when we managed to escape spankings we deserved.

My mom had a couple of useful tools that she used to keep me in line. As both my parents are deaf, they would often communicate through sign language, particularly when we were in the grocery store and acting up. Many times, all I needed her to do, when I was doing something wrong or thinking about doing something wrong, was to look at me with That Look and give the sign for the word, "Okay." It was as if she was saying, "Okay, you know what's coming when you get home."

Of course, I'd spend the next two hours in the store trying to convince her that I would never do anything wrong, ever again.

It worked like a charm most of the time, but there were times when all the talking and pleading in the world wasn't going to help, and I knew it. For those occasions, my mother had The Paddle. The mere sight of that big, black, leather, behavior-modification device struck fear into the hearts of anyone who laid eyes on it. When The Paddle was laid rather forcefully on a certain part of my anatomy, nothing else in the world mattered.

But as much as I remember the lessons I learned rather painfully, by way of The Paddle, I also remember that every time my mother decided to use it, she made sure to tell me, beforehand, why I was being punished. It wasn't as if she was taking out her anger on me. There were rules, and consequences for breaking those rules. But at the end of the day, I never had any doubts about my parents' love for me and my siblings.

Incidentally, the use of The Paddle also kept me out of danger, albeit a different kind of danger than the nurse proposing the ban is likely referring to.

Looking back, I have to wonder what kind of person I would have become, if not for the sense of discipline instilled in me, complete with The Look, and even, The Paddle.

By no means am I suggesting that parents should beat their children in the name of corporal punishment. There's a difference between spanking a child, and throwing them across the room or hitting them with a fist. Parents, who abuse their children in any way, should be held accountable for it.

However, if the aforementioned proposal eventually becomes law, in Massachusetts or anywhere else in this country, well-intentioned parents could, themselves, be thrown in jail for trying to instill discipline in their children.

This begs the question: Who will be there to discipline the children if that happens?

Jason A. Smith covers crime and courts for the Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or via e-mail at jsmith@henryherald.com.