Parenting: Canadian Article

The following article appeared in the Globe and Mail, FACTS AND

ARGUMENTS, Monday, August 18, 1997.

Use the rod, spoil the child


When parenting meant short tempers, loud voices and 'a good hiding,'

it left us children significantly impaired.


By Neil Blacklock

This is not a story of child abuse, at least not as it was understood

35 years ago. It is, maybe, an illustration of how the socially

acceptable practice of a strict upbringing in one generation can

detrimentally affect an individual for the rest of his life.

I was born in England shortly after the end of the Second World War

to working-class parents, a father who was the youngest member of a

large family raised in the 1920s' depression in rural Scotland and a

mother who was an only child, orphaned in her early teens and raised

by elderly relatives. Adulthood has taught me that these

circumstances did not provide my parents with opportunities to

develop parenting skills.

My father was never without a job. As a police officer, he probably

had a more secure livelihood than most. My mother never worked

outside the home and, thus, as a child, I was never subjected to day

care or a babysitter. I was lucky, right? Well, maybe.

Notwithstanding my father's shift work, my parents were a constant at

home and never was I a latch-key child. Compared to the average

nineties child, I had the best of all worlds, right? Well, maybe.

Parenting in the postwar baby-boom years was a different proposition

than it is today. The adage "children should be seen and not heard"

was in its glory. I remember my father once explaining to someone

that there had to be an element of fear in the child-parent


And therein lies the rub. Throughout my childhood and into my youth,

I was afraid of my father! Not just afraid of what he might think

but in constant fear of what he would do or say to me. Anything not

done to his satisfaction was met with an ill-tempered, raised voice

and as often as not a "thick ear." His idea of parental guidance was

aggressively telling me the way it would be and threatening a "good

hiding" if it was not done right. I never saw this as child abuse.

Well, I wouldn't, would I, since this was apparently accepted


Its effect was not to disfigure me physically, but to powerfully

influence the rest of my life. I lived with the constant maternal

threat of "Wait 'til your father gets home!" and very quickly

realized that it was less of a threat to do and say nothing than to

risk raising the ire of my parents.

As a supposedly privileged child of the booming fifties, I was

expected to excel at school, dispel the desires and dreams of

childhood and adopt the mature behaviour and understanding of an

adult. I was to demand and expect nothing and be thankful for who I

was and what I had. Many's the friend of mine who, when engaging in

childhood mischief, was brought into our home, forcefully shown my

father's police uniform and warned as to his behaviour. One must

assume that the intent was to instill fear in all children, thus

developing a disciplined society. Retaining friends was always one

of my biggest challenges.

I recall the many school terms when my report card placed me in the

middle of the pack and not at the top of the heap. Because I knew

that this mediocrity was unacceptable and a poor reflection upon my

family, I was in fear of going home with the report card and deferred

the inevitable as long as possible. Of course, it could not be too

long, since there was punishment for being late home. I can think of

no greater shame in a so-called civilized society than for a child to

be scared to go home, whatever the reason.

An equally serious aspect of this fear was that it was not limited

to my father. As I moved through the school system, I was exposed to

a growing number of male teachers, many of whom adopted a program of

corporal punishment for unsatisfactory work or merely for talking in

class. My relationships with female teachers had been generally

good, except when there was the threat of physical punishment which

was an acceptable part of English school life. This was reflected in

the quality of school work. At a time when apparently there was such

a thing as a stupid question and a leather strap across the hand for

the wrong answer, school work suffered as I withdrew from active

class participation.

Being embarrassed in front of one's peers is bad enough but combined

with psychological fragility, it becomes tragic. At home and school,

the male figure represented violence and no matter how quiet and

unassuming I might be, I could not escape. I became mortally afraid

of making a mistake and, as we all know, the only person who does not

make a mistake is the person who does not do anything.

As high school turned into employment, fear of the male figure became

more ingrained. My superiors saw me as essentially bright with

potential, but underachieving and lacking initiative.

As Cyril Connolly writes in The Unquiet Grave, "Hate is the

consequence of fear, we fear something before we hate it. A child

who fears becomes an adult who hates." I saw male superiors as the

enemy if there was a hint of criticism, deserved or otherwise. To

this day, I do not take criticism well, always personally, not seeing

it as a constructive learning tool. This has had a negative impact

on my working life.

My fear, hatred and distrust of the male figure has dissipated

somewhat but has not disappeared. I find myself intolerant and

embarrassed at my own failure and intensely critical of my own

mistakes. This is often demonstrated in a short and verbally violent

temper which disturbs those around me. I am a classic underachiever

although positive reinforcement from those who care for me helps

overcome this.

Perhaps a more serious effect is seen in my own parenting. My role

model was ill-tempered and violent and my parenting skills are

tarnished by that experience. I hope the damage to my children has

been minimal although they did suffer the trauma of a broken home.

While distance separates us, there is still a relationship of sorts.

The enduring patience of those around me now is a constant comfort

but the dormant monster within remains. Why did I write this?

Perhaps it can be a contribution to the growing field of knowledge

about what ails our society. Perhaps it can be an aid for those

around me, and for myself, to understand who and what I am. Perhaps

it is an attempt to enlighten my father, a challenge that I could not

meet when he was still alive.



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