In our spare time, many of us sit around shooting the breeze; reflecting on world events. The subjects include the horrible state of our economy, politics, education, weight gain or loss and dating relationships. Dysfunctional behavior in our communities, especially among young people, is a topic seldom avoided. These discussions about our young people invariably reflect on what has gone wrong. We try to analyze why there are differences in the way things are now when compared to the past. We continuously ask why things are so different today. Everyone has an opinion but we know that there are no easy answers. For me, however, Father’s Day, brings memories of my father and reminds me of a core belief with respect to why I believe things are so different. My views speak directly to and perhaps are near the top of the list of reasons my generation was able to rise above the negative challenges of the past. Yes, there is no question that the world was significantly different, fathers were significantly different and relationships between father’s and their families were quite different. One, of the things from the past that stands out in my mind can be captured in a phrase to which most of us can relate; “Fathers just did not take any mess.” So, let me on this Father’s Day, thank my father for his guidance that resulted in my strong value system; a value system with a cornerstone of strong discipline. Discipline can be harsh! So, let me make it clear, I loved my father and he loved me. He did all within his power to provide for me and my siblings. I grew up in a wholesome family environment. He worked his “butt” off to purchase a house that he turned into a comfortable home; instilled in me a strong religious foundation; sacrificed to put me through college; and along with my mother nurtured me. I make this acknowledgement in light of the emphasis I shall place on discipline that came not only through discussions and lectures but most notably through physical confrontations. I was not afraid of my father but I was clearly afraid of the consequences of my actions that may not have been in keeping with my father’s mandates. I would not think of doing something that he did not embrace. Like many of you, I strongly believe that I have a good life today because of the hand my father dealt me, back in the day.
I recognize that the discipline I experienced growing up does not fit the practices of many modern day fathers. You hear fathers today proclaim that they do not believe in putting their hands on their children. Large segments of our society embrace this view. They say that it is barbaric; that beating children is inhumane. They believe that they can keep their children in line through discussions; through strict rules and regulations. You also hear children saying that their fathers better not touch them as they will report them to the authorities; something a child would not think of saying to their father back in my era. Now, I am not advocating for parents to discipline their children with forceful means; however, I am thankful for the licks across my posterior from my father when I was a child. When he verbally confronted me, the licks had more of an impact. No matter where you stand with regard to how a child should be disciplined, few people can deny its importance, perhaps nothing physical, but nevertheless, discipline of some sort. Yes, I recall the looks; fathers could stare at you in a manner that would stop you in your tracks; looks that communicated to you that whatever you were doing or even thinking, you had better stop and think about the actions you were considering. Then there were the words that struck fear in your heart; words like “I bought you into this world and I will take you out.” Or, “As long as you live in this house, you will do as I say.” But, the actions of my father had a long and lasting impact; actions that centered on his belt, a.k.a., “old Betsy,” communicated with me in the most emphatic and lasting manner possible, back in the day.
I will never forget the image of my father, confronting me when I had done something really bad, pulling that large, thick belt out of his belt loops. The tears started to flow before the belt came from around his waist. I know that many of you had similar experiences with your fathers. My father’s use of his belt is most vivid in an incident that occurred when I was a very young boy. While I do not recall what I did wrong, I recall that I was wearing a heavy blue snow suit. You recall the snow suits from the past that were made with heavy fabric to protect children from the elements. Yet, those rhythmic “licks” were felt through the snow suit. As I reflect on this incident, it seems as though I can still feel the sting. As the licks increased, the tears flowed. I also cannot forget those incidents when my father confronted me and my siblings for something that one of us did wrong. When no one would speak up as to who was guilty of the wrongdoing, you know what happened; everyone received a beating, back then.
Looking back at some of my disciplinary experiences with my father, they appear to have been mild based on stories provided by some of my colleagues. I was told by one colleague that he could not remember his mild disciplinary encounters but as far as those times when he was really bad, his father’s behavior would fit the same pattern each time without exception. Quite often, it was as a result of an incident that occurred at school. You must remember that you could not go out anywhere and do something bad and not anticipate word getting home before you did. Can you still hear your mother’s words, “Wait until your father gets home?” Well, my colleague did! Once his father arrived home from work, he received a briefing from his mother, as to his inappropriate behavior. Without asking any questions, my colleague was told to report to his room and remove all of his clothing. His father told him that he would see him in his room after he finished his dinner. This type of situation occurred on more than one occasion, and occurred more than fifty years ago, still my colleague remembered his thoughts as he sat in his room in his “birthday suit.” He went on to tell me that the three to five minutes that he experienced the wrath of his father were times that he will always remember. Why did he have to remove all of his clothing? His father told him that he did not want to beat his money. If you had similar experiences, I would bet that once you came downstairs, your father would pull you aside and tell you that he still loved you. This was the type of relationship shared by many fathers and sons; fathers were not your friends, they were your fathers, back in the day.
I was told by another colleague that many families today are without fathers in the home and therefore it is difficult for fathers to play a dominant role today in disciplining their children. I was quickly reminded by a causal observer to this discussion that there were single parent families in the past. However, even in cases of separation or divorce, it was not unusual for a mother to tell her son, when he had done something wrong, that she would call his father who did not live in the home; a father who sometimes lived on the other side of town. A father’s belief in the importance of discipline caused him to go to his son’s home to put his son in line; he did this even though it may have taken several hours or even the next day before he arrived at his child’s home.
I am certain that a number of you do not like the emphasis I have placed on what some call “corporal punishment.” I have heard the arguments; there are more sensible ways to deal with the problems of children. But, from what I see in our communities, I relish the old time discipline that fathers knew how to administer. I strongly believe that young men and young women would not engage in the behaviors we see today if we had the old fashioned discipline of the past. Now, I am certainly not encouraging anyone to go out and do what fathers did in the past. Yet, some sort of strong discipline is needed. Few people can deny the importance of discipline, in particular, the type we received in the past. Few cannot deny that the discipline we used to receive was a determining factor in behavioral changes. While fathers were important in the discipline process, it was also family members; it also involved the extended family; it involved the neighbors; schools played a role; everyone with whom we came in contact played a role. Back in the day, young people were confronted regularly by almost anyone when they were doing something wrong. In the past, it was not unusual for a total stranger to correct or chastise you for inappropriate behavior. It was expected! It was expected because it was in keeping with the tone set by fathers and how fathers reacted to things bad behavior. So, on this Father’s Day, I would like to salute my father and fathers everywhere for their love, care and, believe it or not, their discipline that kept us in line and shaped out lives, back in the day.