I grew up in an age when physically disciplining children was quite acceptable.
At the Catholic elementary schools I attended, the strap was the weapon of choice. I was in Grade 4 the first time I received it, for what crime I long ago forgot. I wasn't a particularly rebellious child and yet, I remember being led into the hall by a teacher many times, my classmates all knowing what was about to happen, all waiting to detect a whimper or two.
I suppose that was part of the strategy – it was intended to frighten those inside the classroom as much as it was the person on the receiving end. Message: Don't let this ever be you. Throughout my grade school years, I also had my knuckles rapped by rulers, my ears twisted for talking when I shouldn't have been. One teacher in Grade 7 loved twisting my nipples if I did something he didn't like. It would easily bring me to tears.
It was a different time for sure.
It extended to the home front as well. I was certainly spanked as a child. As my brother and sisters got older, the wooden spoon replaced the hand. My father would sometimes strap me with his belt. That was the worst, because I would be sent to my room by my mother and had to wait for him to get home from work to receive my punishment. I always dreaded hearing those footsteps marching up the stairs because I knew what was coming.
I can still see my dad biting down on his bottom lip as he whipped his belt off his pants.
I never held this against my father for a single day of his life.
He was one of the kindest, gentlest souls I've ever known. I know not everybody dispensed justice in the same way he did, but he dished it out the way his father dished it out. It is what he knew. And frankly, my brother and I weren't the most perfect of children. I'm sure we tested his patience. I know we tested my mother's.
When it came time to raise my own two boys, however, I could never bring myself to raise a hand (or anything else) in anger. I could never forget how much I despised it myself and how useless it was, ultimately, in modifying behaviour. There is also the fact that their mother would never have abided by it.
All of which brings me to the recent announcement that the federal government plans to put a ban on spanking. It's a decision I highly applaud.
I recognize not everyone shares this opinion. There are some, including wise voices at this newspaper, who believe it's another example of the morality police invading another corner of our lives. Many of their points are legitimate in their own way. But I take a different tack.
Is spanking a form of child abuse? I believe it is. I accept that you can get through life fairly unscarred by the occasional encounter with the hand of a parent. In fact, you can develop into a fully functioning, well-adjusted adult having survived worse; I know. But does anyone believe spanking children teaches them anything constructive? I think it mostly leaves them confused: Why is this person I love hitting me? I think it's a form of release for a frustrated parent, as much as anything.
And let's be honest: Not everyone's hand delivers the same amount of force. Sure, a child can easily endure a light tap from a mother at her wit's end. But a slap on the bottom by a 6-foot-4, 240-pound man delivers an entirely different level of force. And that type of behaviour shouldn't be sanctioned in any civilized society. It's time to get rid of this archaic form of discipline once and for all.
Of course, the new law is not going to stop some from continuing the practice in the privacy of their own homes. It will be difficult to police. I doubt there will be any kind of 1-800 spanking snitch line. This law is symbolic as much as anything.
It speaks to the kind of country we want to be. It says that in Canada, we believe this type of conduct does far more damage than good. That should send a powerful message to everyone who lives here – one that should be communicated loudly and clearly to new immigrants who come from countries and cultures where spanking is common, accepted practice.
My father meted out punishment the way he, and most of his friends, received it growing up. With hope, one day kids being raised in this country will only know about the experience from history books.