Parenting and the use of corporal punishment has been in the news the past week and a half because of the charges the soon to be former Minnesota Vikings running back, Adrian Peterson, caught for going overboard in disciplining his four year old son earlier this year. Until I saw the pictures of the bleeding welts Peterson inflicted on the child I will be honest and say that I blew the hubbub off as a manufactured controversy trying to get in on the Ray Rice spousal abuse scandal. I’m no stranger to parental figures coming at kids with switches, extension cords, and whatever was handy growing up. Those whippings, whuppings, beatings, whatever you call them did hurt at the time but I always looked at that stuff as a part of growing up in the world I was born into.
The stuff with Peterson combined with my current visit down here in Dixie to see my family and friends has brought up the memories of past physical punishments me and nearly everyone else I knew growing up received. I always tell my mom and aunts who did most of the disciplining of my cousins and me that if I knew about child protective services as a kid that they’d still be under the jailhouse for the stripes they put on us. I say jokingly because while the threat of punishment was always present if any of us crossed the definite lines that were set for us as kids I can truly say we weren’t scarred for life from it as some claim is possible when an adult lays hands on a child. Nah, the scars came from growing up in poverty with absent fathers for the most part.
I wasn’t an angel growing up but I wasn’t a quote unquote bad kid either. I knew whenever I drove my mother to wrath that she never whapped me or my brother because she was going through the hard times in her life that came from being a young, single, Black woman raising two knuckleheaded boys on her own. As an adult now, I understand somewhat the sacrifices she made to provide the basics for us as well as the extras like the Atari 2600’s and videogames for Christmas or cable so we could watch Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes beat each senseless every week on WTBS.
So if she popped us for giving her lip or not doing the chores around the house then while I didn’t necessarily like it, I did understand where it came from as a stern reminder to be thankful for what we did have as a family and to never take even the most mundane things for granted. My father, in the wind as always when I was growing up, never hit me but then again he never did much of anything for me outside of providing half my DNA and the greatest extended family in the world IMO.
Bringing that back around to Peterson and his parenting skills, it all comes down to realizing that perfect parenting doesn’t come with an instructional manual. Peterson, while obviously misguided, seems to take his cues on parenting from what he saw and experienced growing up relatively hand to mouth in Palestine, TX. He’s said in enough public statements before and since these child abuse charges that it was that type of childrearing that gave him the focus to reach the highest level of football. Who’s to say he would not have made it to the National Football League if his folks had not beat him with switches and extension cords when he crossed their lines growing up but he seems to think that was just as intrinsic to his success on the field just as much as his God-given speed and strength. If corporal punishment was such an important factor in his success then it’s not too hard to imagine him surmising the same tough love is what’s needed for his kids to succeed in life also.
If he thought that then he’s wrong though. Peterson has also said that he never beats his children with extension cords because he remembers how much that pain hurt when he was hit with them to know that wasn’t the way to go. He also experienced the loss of a child last year when his two year old son was beat to death by the kid’s mother’s boyfriend.
One of the truisms I try to live by in life is that if you know better, then you do better. Peterson knows more than most that an adult can kill a child with corporal punishment. If he doesn’t then he needs to be checked on that to become a better father because there’s little doubt to me he loves his kids. He’s definitely an engaged parent as shown by the fact he provides time as well as money for his kids but as always the best intentions can lead to tragic ends if the means are faulty. Hopefully, he’ll learn that sooner than later. Those of us who criticize him and other parents who use corporal punishment as unreconstructed troglodytes need to learn too we should not to judge too harshly lest we be judged the same if we come up short sometimes. There can be a fine line between tough love and abuse and seeing the bruises on his son and the knot on the head of another son that recently came to light, Adrian Peterson needs to get on the right side of that line.
–Jason O. Logan