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Spare the Rod

By RaLeah ~

My parents were Christians, and so were we. Church, Christian school, Christian friends. We grew up with it.

Along with morality, our church imparted advice. On dating, marriage, and child rearing. The hardest for me was punishment of children by spanking.

The preacher and teachers pointed to a verse, "He who spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him correcteth him betimes" (Proverbs 13:24) and "Withhold not correction from a child: for if thou strike him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and deliver his soul from hell." (Proverbs 23:13-14)

But here's the important part: I'm the third girl of four daughters. My two older sisters are strong and willful. My father would spank them for bad behavior, and they took both it like stoics.

I was another story.

I was a super sensitive child. I tamed wild kittens born on our farm so they'd make good pets instead of growing into feral cats my dad would eventually get rid of. (He did it secretly, but we knew.) But such was farm life, growing up in a rural place with cows and chickens and ducks... life was for survival of the fittest, for the animals that could contribute. For cats that could catch barn mice, great... but not too many cats or you have an infestation.

I got it. But I interceded for the cats and kittens. Got the tame ones to pet stores and cousins and friends so they could grow up comfortably indoors. (My oldest sister was very allergic to cats, so we could never have one ourselves as an indoor pet.)

But spanking was supposed to be the way to banish the rebellion from your children before it happened. if children didn't fear and respect their parents... why, they'd end up doing drugs and getting pregnant before adulthood.

And my dad listened to that advice preached from the pulpit, and he did what a good Christian parent should. He spanked us when we disobeyed.

Until one day.

I asked on the way to church if I could sit by my grandma and grandpa during the service after Sunday School, and my father said, "I think we should all sit together as a family today." And I said okay.

But my Sunday school teacher kept me late, to ask me if I'd like to sing in a children's choir. (I've always had a pretty good singing voice, and I think she also wanted my help rounding up the kids who'd be interested.) I was delighted, and I said yes. But by the time I got to the regular service, it was just about to start. As I walked into the auditorium, the organ music stopped, and I was standing there in the back, looking for my parents. I asked an usher if he could help me find where my parents were sitting, but in a church with 1000 members, he just sort of shrugged, bewildered.

After a panic of scanning the crowd, I saw my grandparents. I raced over to my grandma, and she pulled me into the seat beside her. Nearly in tears, I asked her where my parents were sitting. She looked around and whispered that she didn't see them, but that was okay.

I was beside myself for the whole sermon. After it was over, I raced over to my parents (I'd spotted them finally about 15 minutes in) and couldn't apologize enough. My dad stated that my disobedience would be punished when we got home.

I dissolved into tears. Then hysterical crying. Then gasping sobs. The whole half hour drive home. By the time we got home and my dad pulled out the paddle (and this wasn't just a hairbrush or something--he'd made it himself out of super strong wood so it wouldn't break on impact like a cheap carnival toy) I was beside myself. I was gasping and could barely breathe.

I remember this whole scene better afterwards. At the time, I saw it with perfect clarity, but not perfect understanding. I stammered out my story, and my dad looked unconvinced. I broke down even more, now physically shaking in fear. Shaking, quivering, terrified little girl. Red faced from crying. Wide-eyed with terror, looking at my dad and awaiting punishment.

Here's how I remember it now: My dad looked at the paddle in his hand. He looked at me. He slowly set the paddle down on the coffee table behind him. "I think you've been punished enough," he said quietly.

And after that, he never used the paddle again. Not even on my younger sister when she acted up.

What I realize later... He saw that I was SCARED of him. And I was. I was terrified. Because my dad had the power to spank me, I lived in total fear of him. I never, ever willfully disobeyed him, because he was becoming frightening to me.

He was (and still is) a good man, and he's always loved me, and he didn't want me to fear him. But his Bible said if he didn't spank me, he didn't love me.

But on that day, my dad realized one size doesn't fit all, even if it comes from the Bible. And spanking me wasn't going to be for my benefit.

I'm an atheist now, and I would never spank a child, but I have a lot of respect and sympathy for my parents. I do not doubt they have always loved me. And knowing that my dad could set aside what everyone told him was the Biblical way of doing things, in favor of the right way to handle a situation... it makes me love and admire him more.

I am out of Christianity, but my parents and family are still in. But loving them and understanding that they can still grow and change with new information keeps me tied to them, keeps me hopeful that they are still evolving and growing too.

And I'll never give up on that.