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
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
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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