Trigger warning for Hurts Me More Than You series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.
My father’s study was a terrifying room, from birth until I moved out of the house. I’m sure it still is for my siblings. But I seem to have been the only one to get as much pain there that I did. I try not to think about why that is, because it’s a long, dark, ugly road. But it stands: my father beat me, though not with a rod. He started with a belt, and moved to a wooden spoon and then “the paddle.” It was one of those cutting boards, oak, I think… 5”x8” or so and about an inch thick. It was terrible.
It was terrible not just because I was getting smacked with a giant board – but because I became intimately acquainted with how it felt on bare skin. Yeah, bottomless. A lot of boundaries that should have existed were ruined when that thing came into the family. There’s a lot more I could say on that, but… that memory section has mostly vanished into the depths of my PTSD.
What hasn’t is the non-hitting corporal punishment: the physical labor.
I was tasked with a lot of stuff that my brothers were not, since I was the girl and all. All the laundry, most of the dishes, making sure all the bedrooms were clean, and so on. One of my doctors has said that she thinks I have fibromyalgia because of the abuse and work I was made to do. I know some of you are thinking that that’s not possible. But try “being forced to manually turn a garden and plant bulbs in the middle of a Colorado October while sick with pneumonia.”
That is why corporal punishment is bad: not only are you hurting your kid in the immediate, but you lose all sense of boundaries the child should have… like helping them to be healthy instead of seeing them as someone you can force to do things because they’re terrified of being punished.
Trust me… while I’m not physically still being punished [I moved out seven years ago], it’s still punishing me. Through my PTSD, my flashbacks, and the nightmares where I wake up screaming in the middle of the night.
I may be free from more, but I will be punished the rest of my life by what I’ve already experienced… thanks to corporal punishment.
I never heard my parents say anything even remotely close to “It hurts me more than you.”
For one thing my “spankings” were very rarely thought out. They were rarely “punishment” for some infraction, they were most often spontaneous beatings by my enraged father, enraged for any number of trivial reasons.
One episode demonstrates this best.
I was nine years old.
My father had been hired on a contract basis to clear brush from 180 acres of forest land. The man who owned the land assumed that my father would be working this job himself. Of course this was far from true. My father would wait till he knew the man was not in town, pile all us kids into the van, drive us to the land and work us, for a solid eight or more hours. Unpaid. Under the radar. During school hours.
“This IS your “schooling” he would say, “Learning how to work”.
This kind of thing was standard for my childhood, and one of the major reasons we were homeschooled. Work. Hard work. Unpaid work. Grueling work. Dangerous work. Mind numbing work.
Not chores. Not house hold duties.
Work. Real work. Work with chainsaws and lumber, work with shovels and rakes and hoes. Work that left blisters.
Work that my father was paid for on a “per job” basis.
Work us children never got a dime for.
All of this work was made possible only because we were homeschooled, because we could be worked 8-10 hours a day any time of the year.
It was early spring. Snow still held the shadows under the trees in an icy grip. As we headed into the forest to work, breath puffing in the cold predawn air, my father turned to me and said: “I forgot the gas for the chainsaw, go back and get it out of the van, and don’t dawdle.”
His voice was level and normal, showing absolutely no sign of the rage to come. I walked back, walked carefully, one foot in front of the other. Why? Because we were on a rutted logging road, and the deep ruts were filled with water several inches deep, crusted over with a thin film of ice.
And my boots were old and full of holes, passed down from 3 siblings before they got to me. I had never owned a new pair of shoes. Not once. My first pair of new shoes was bought for me by my Grandparents when I was 12 years old, so I wouldn’t have to wear ragged sneakers to their 50th wedding anniversary. I knew that if I got my feet wet I would work in the cold and snow for 8 or more hours with wet feet. No question about it. So I walked carefully, one foot in front of the other down the ridges between the water filled ruts.
This, was apparently, “dawdling.”
I heard an enraged scream from behind me, and turned just in time to see my father rip an ice encrusted tree limb from the frozen ground, it was a big one, two and a half feet long and twice as thick as a broom handle.
The beating went on for about 30 seconds.
Do you know how many times a enraged man can swing a club in 30 seconds?
Do you know what kind of damage it does to a 9 year old boys body when swung with the full force of grown man’s work hardened muscles?
That night my mother was worried enough about what she had seen to ask me to “show her”. Even she recoiled in shock.
I was covered in now black bruises about three inches wide from my lower calves to my lower back. At least 30 blows had rained down on my skinny frame.
This kind of beating didn’t happen all that frequently. But I still have nightmares at least twice a year. At 31 years old I still wake up with clenched teeth and a racing heart. In my dreams, I am small and helpless.
In my dreams I cannot escape. In my dreams my father is beating me.