Editor’s Note: This column is an opinion piece submitted by August Demilune, a parent taking adult sociology courses at Austin Community College.
Parenting is a transformative journey. The path I walk, with my son Gulliver’s hand in mine, is dotted with a million moments of joyousness and pride. His first words, his first steps, the first dandelion he picked, the first time I put a “The Future is Female” shirt on him and took him to The March for Science with my anti-GMO activist group — all moments I will cherish forever.
Unfortunately, though, not every day of parenthood can be filled with picking out lacquered gourds at the farmer’s market. My and Gulliver’s path, like any, is also beset by bumps and rocks and difficult to navigate twists. Gulliver is only 6 years old and so, of course, he does not always behave himself. A parent’s job is to illuminate the boundaries of acceptable behavior to their children and to demonstrate that overstepping those boundaries has consequences.
I wanted to find a way to demonstrate to Gulliver that when he misbehaves, he hurts people. Sometimes, potentially, quite a lot. Nothing should make a person feel worse than hurting another person. But how do we explain this to our children in a way that will resonate with them? They have the ability to empathize but far fewer reference points from which to draw on than an adult. In the past — and, disgustingly, quite often today as well — parents sought to demonstrate that misbehavior can have painful consequences by hurting their own children. Beating, spanking, deprival of items and experiences that bring the child joy, and voice raising all litter the shameful history of parenting.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that all of those actions make up a far-reaching and, sadly, ongoing emotional genocide.
Gulliver, though only in kindergarten, is already one of the most emotionally intelligent people I know. He has wept throughout every episode of The Handmaid’s Tale we’ve watched together. I pride myself on raising my son outside the web of prejudiced restraints our society has woven, so I wanted to think of a new method of “punishment” for my child. One that emotionally educated the boy without harming him. So I came back to my original thought. Hurting someone else is the worst thing a person can do. Hurting someone… should hurt you.
Now, whenever Gulliver acts up, I have him spank me. Hurt me. Someone he loves. That is his punishment, so that he learns firsthand that misbehaving hurts others and that hurting others hurts.
There are few things more disgusting than a man talking about an achievement of his — because of how easy society makes it for us to accomplish everything we want, ever, at any time — but I must say, my idea has been a resounding success.
These days there is nothing my son wants to do less than spank his father.
The other day when Gulliver and I went to the park is a great example of how effective of a punishment a child spanking their parent can be. I was sitting on the bench reading while Gulliver played on the slide. Every once in a while I would look up to make sure Gulliver was alright and that he was getting along with the other children. After a bit, I noticed that Gulliver had gone down the slide more than a girl who was playing on the slide as well.
Was Gulliver not sharing? Did Gulliver believe he had more of a right to use the slide than her? I put down my book and walked over to them. I asked my son if it was the girl’s turn on the slide but he told me it was not. Unsure of if he was correct or not I asked him how many times he’d used the slide so far. He told me he’d gone down the slide sixteen times. I then asked the girl how many times she’d gone down the slide. She said only seven. I then told Gulliver that it was the girl’s turn to go down the slide, and not his, and that, furthermore, he should not get to have another turn on the slide until the girl had equaled his sixteen turns. Gulliver complained that it was his turn, as the girl had gone down the slide most recently.
The little girl told me that she had no intention of going down the slide that many more times and that she did not mind if she and Gulliver continued to take turns but I told her that didn’t matter. Then, with no regard for how offensive it was to disagree with what I was telling him, Gulliver pointed out that the girl also had gone down the slide less than him because she’d arrived later him.
That was it. Gulliver’s insensitivity couldn’t be excused any longer. I got down on all fours, put my bottom in the air, and informed Gulliver that he needed to get down off the jungle gym and spank me. Gulliver looked around at all the parents and children staring at us and began to cry. He finally realized he was hurting others with his behavior, and now he was going to have to pay for it by literally hurting me.
“Spank daddy and spank daddy good,” I told him.
A little while later, after Gulliver had spanked me a dozen or so times, the police came to the park to ask me some questions. I thought it was a bit much that the police would need to investigate a kindergartner’s sexism, but one of the other parents must have called them after seeing Gulliver spank me on the playground. I suppose the parent heard about what Gulliver had done — re: the turn gap he had created on the slide — and decided to call it in. Though it may not have been necessary I was still encouraged that our law enforcement officials were taking social violence like this seriously enough to respond.
The police asked me what exactly had happened so I told them about Gulliver, the girl, and the slide. Most of their questions revolved around the spanking itself, however. (Presumably, they were already informed of the other details by the little girl, her mother, or someone else.) Regardless, I answered every question they asked, such as how often my son spanks me. (“Often enough to get the job done,” I told them.)
“We need to take this kid into custody. This is sick,” the younger officer said to the older one.
The more senior officer explained to his partner that there was nothing they could do, though, because although what transpired was, “gross” and “unhinged” it wasn’t against any laws. I agreed with the officers that my son had been behaving disgustingly and assured them that he’d be spanking me again soon if I thought he was asking for it. Still, I wanted to assure them that I was optimistic Gulliver would one day understand what it meant to be a socially conscious man.
“He’s young, but he can get it,” I told them with a smile.
The police officers stared at me for a good minute, shook their heads, and left.
Gulliver and I are still walking our path, and the way forward still isn’t easy, but our journey is more rewarding every day.