The Story of an Ex-Good Girl: Part Ten


HA Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Exgoodgirl’s blog The Travels and Travails of an Ex-Good Girl. It was originally published on August 29, 2014 and has been slightly modified for HA.

<Part Nine

Part Ten: Wives, Children and Dogs

After we had settled into the routine of belonging to “the group”, as we called it, it was relatively easy to know what was expected of us, as children.  I knew I needed to obey anything and everything my parents (or other adults) told me, with no questions.  I knew I wasn’t allowed to complain about things I didn’t want to do or argue with my parents about anything.

As a child, I was inherently inferior to adults.

I was not their equal.  I learned this through watching Mr. LaQuiere, my parents, and the other adults routinely put down children.  We were taught we were all full of “foolishness”.  We “needed our wills broken”.  We needed to be taught our place.  We needed to learn absolute obedience and submission to authority.

I still remember the exact place I was when Mr. LaQuiere told my parents explicitly what “complete submission” meant.

“If I told my 15-year-old daughter to take off all her clothes, and get down on her hands and knees and bark like a dog, she should obey me instantly,” he said. “That is the kind of obedience children must give their parents.

Absolute obedience, without questioning.”  This level of humiliation had never even occurred to me.  To know that it was possible was a very distressing thought.  Would my parents or Mr. LaQuiere ever order me to humiliate myself like this?  I silently decided that if my dad ever told me to strip naked and bark like a dog, I wouldn’t, no matter how much I was punished.

I didn’t mind the idea of obeying, because I was naturally obedient.  But I hated the “without question” part.  I liked to ask questions.  I liked to know the reasons behind things.  I liked to know the ‘why’, not because I wanted to “challenge my parents’ authority”, as Mr. LaQuiere called it, but because I genuinely wanted to know.  I had an active mind, and it was always probing to get to the bottom of things, to know why they worked the way they did.  I was told this was disrespectful to my authorities, and that they should never be questioned.  I didn’t need to know the reasons.  I was only a child.

I had no right to know.

This absolute, unquestioning obedience did not just apply to small children.  It applied to all children (a label determined not by maturity, but by parentage), regardless of age.  Mr. LaQuiere expected his adult sons and daughters to snap to attention and instantly obey with the same cheerful alacrity that he expected from a 5-year-old.

This system was put in place by God himself, and it was God who said that any child who did not obey was rebellious, and should be stoned to death by his parents, his siblings, his friends, and everyone else as a lesson in how seriously He viewed disobedience.

Obedience was a universally-praised virtue, with the exception of men.  Men didn’t need to obey anybody (except God, that is).  But wives, children, and dogs were all expected to obey.

Dogs and children were often trained with similar methods.

We had a small, fluffy, Maltese puppy named Sasha.  She was friendly and happy, and eager to please.  But just as my parents were told they didn’t know how to train us the right way, Mr. LaQuiere told them they were failing in training our puppy as well.  She needed to learn absolute obedience as well.  She needed to instantly come every time she was called.  She needed to be punished severely for every infraction, whether it was not coming right away, or making an accident on the rug during the process of house-training her.  Any time we found a mess she made, Mr. LaQuiere said, we needed to drag her over to it, rub her nose in the excrement, and tell her “BAD DOG!” in stern, disappointed tones.  He demonstrated this for us multiple times.  I felt bad for her…she looked so forlorn and sad, being reprimanded for making a mistake.  But Mr. LaQuiere said it was the only way to train a dog.  If she didn’t come when she was called, he demonstrated the proper punishment technique – sometimes he would drag her by her collar or the scruff of her neck.  Sometimes he would hit her, not with a rolled-up-newspaper, which he said was useless, but with his hand.  One time when he was correcting her for something, and dangling her in the air by the scruff of her neck, she yipped at him.  I imagine it hurt to be hung in the air by her skin like that.  He responded by throwing her against the wall.  Never allow a dog to challenge your authority like that, he told us.  I still remember how she yelped, and what she looked like in a frightened heap on the floor, her sides heaving in and out.  After Mr. LaQuiere “trained” her in obedience, she did learn to come when called…her tail between her legs, often slinking along the floor, looking guilty and anxious, never knowing if she was going to be smacked across the room, or welcomed.  Poor little Sasha.  She wanted so badly to please us.  I honestly think she didn’t know what she was being punished for most of the time.  My parents might have thought his techniques were more cruel, if it weren’t for the fact that there wasn’t a single one that he didn’t also use on children.

Children, dogs, and wives were taught absolute obedience. In wives, however, it was called “submission”.  Wives were to submit absolutely to their husbands, who were the heads of the family, and their authorities.

This was true not only if the husband was right in what he asked, or if was kind, but also if he was cruel or wrong.

Mr. LaQuiere said God instructed wives to submit, and men to love their wives: and one way to love wives was to teach them to submit.  One Wednesday night, he described how he taught his own wife absolute submission.  He called it “The Story of 11 Mile”.  He and Mrs. LaQuiere were driving somewhere one day, and it was a place they hadn’t been before, so Mrs. LaQuiere was trying to help him find the way there.  They needed to turn on 11 Mile, so as they were driving, she saw it, too late, and said, “Dear, we’ve passed 11 Mile!”  He said she was wrong, he was sure they hadn’t passed it yet.  She disagreed.  He was displeased by her lack of submission.  As they drove on, it quickly became clear to him that they had, in fact, passed 11 Mile.  But this was not important compared to the fact that Mrs. LaQuiere had insisted on contradicting him, showing him disrespect, and refusing to submit to him and agree that he was right.  So to teach her a lesson, he refused to turn around, until she showed submission by saying “You’re right, dear, we didn’t pass 11 Mile.”  Apparently she didn’t want to do this for a while, and he kept right on driving.  Finally she told him, “You’re right, dear.  We haven’t passed 11 Mile.”  Once she submitted to him by accepting that he was right, no matter what, he turned the car around, and they drove on to their destination.

Today I think of this, and I HAVE. NO. WORDS.  What the heck?!  He was wrong, and she merely pointed out that he passed a street, but he couldn’t even allow her to think he might have made a mistake.  His pride, his sense of absolute authority and need for submission was so great that he actually forced his wife to lie to him and tell him he was right, before he would make a simple U-turn.  Poor Mrs. LaQuiere.  I sometimes wonder how she stood it.

Mr. LaQuiere’s worldview was simple: wives, children and dogs were all divinely ordained to be submissive and obedient to him.  He wasn’t being revolutionary – he was just following God’s plan.  It wasn’t his fault that God had made him male, human, and given him offspring.

He knew his place in God’s design, and no one was going to shove him out of his rightful position of superiority.

photo credit: Joel Dinda via photopin cc

Michael Farris Recommends Child Training Manual That Promotes Beating Dogs and Spanking Infants

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By Nicholas Ducote, HA Community Coordinator

At the end of Michael Farris, Sr.’s recent white paper, he recommended James Dobson’s The New Strong-Willed Child (2003).

Unlike the works of the Ezzos, the Pearls, and Bill Gothard, this Dobson volume was not a foundational piece of my childhood. So I decided it was time to give it a read-through. Saving Victoria Strong has reviewed the beginning of the book in great detail here. This critique is not intended to be comprehensive, rather a cursory look at Dobson’s child-reading philosophies.

I have to admit: I expected better content considering Michael Farris ended his essay by recommending this. I was shocked by the dehumanizing themes of control and projection of power as well as the animal-like dominance by fathers. “Love and control” were Dobson’s guiding principles. Yet there was a disturbing amount of violence justified throughout the volume. Dobson seemed to model his training methods after a wolf-pack and a wolf-pack’s “Alpha Male.”

dobsonThe introduction set up the book with an analogy about Dobson beating obedience into his “confirmed revolutionary” dachshund. Dobson admitted that “Siggie” wasn’t “vicious or mean,” but Dobson nonetheless demanded absolute obedience from the animal. One night, when Siggie obstinately refused to retire to his doggy-bed, Dobson knew the “only way to make Siggie obey was to threaten him with destruction. Nothing else worked.” He “turned and went to my closet and got a small belt to help me ‘reason’ with ‘ol Sig.”

While the dog angrily stood its ground, Dobson began beating it with his belt (trigger warning for animal cruelty):

“I gave him a firm swat across the rear end, and he tried to bite the belt. I popped him again and he tried to bite me.”

“What developed next is impossible to describe. The tiny dog and I had the most vicious fight ever staged between man and beast. I fought him up one wall and down the other, with both of us scratching and clawing and growling. I am still embarrassed by the memory of the entire scene. Inch by inch I moved him toward the family room and his bed. As a final desperate maneuver, Siggie jumped on the couch and backed into the corner for one last snarling stand. I eventually got him into his bed, but only because I outweighed him two hundred to twelve” (3).

In order to avoid any confusion between people and animals, Dobson explained exactly what he means:

“Just as surely as a dog will occasionally challenge the authority of his leaders, a child is inclined to do the same thing, only more so. This is no minor observation, for it represents a characteristic of human nature that has escaped the awareness of many experts who write books on the subject of discipline.”

Unconcerned by the way he dehumanized children, Dobson offered a quick counter, “perhaps I seem to be humanizing the behavior of a dog, but I think not.”

You read that right: just as he had to have a pitched battle, beating his tiny dog with a belt, you should be prepared to control and exert your dominance over your “strong-willed” children.

Dobson followed his dog-beating story with sage advice on the “Hierarchy of Strength and Courage,” which sounds curiously like something Ron Swanson would invent in an episode of Parks and Recreation. Apparently, the only way for children to sort out their relative social position is to fight:

“Whenever a youngster movies into a new neighborhood or a new school district, he usually has to fight (either verbally or physically) to establish himself in the hierarchy of strength. This respect for power and courage also makes children want to know how tough their leaders are… I can guarantee that sooner or later, one of the children under your authority will clench his little fist an take you on. Like Siggie at bedtime, he will say with his manner: ‘I don’t think you are tough enough to make me obey.’ You had better be prepared to prove him wrong in that moment, or the challenge will happen again and again” (4).

What a model of peace-making and cooperation, Dr. Dobson! His explanation of why children defy and look for boundaries sounds like something straight from the Pearls’ toxic teachings:

“Perhaps this tendency toward self-will is the essence of original sin that has infiltrated the human family. It certainly explains why I place such stress on the proper response to willful defiance during childhood, for that rebellion can plant seeds of personal disaster. The weed that grows from it may become a tangled briar patch during the troubled days of adolescence” (5).

At the end of the introduction, Dobson described another dog they owned. “Mindy,” he wrote “[was the] most beautiful, noble dog I’ve ever owned. She simply had no will of her own, except to do the bidding of her masters. Probably because of the unknown horrors of her puppyhood” (11). Oh, you mean like being chased around the room by a man beating you with a belt because you don’t want to go to your doggy-bed? Dobson did explain that his two dogs fell on opposite ends of the compliant-defiant spectrum (just like a minority of children are compliant), but he seems far too happy that Mindy acted like an abused, traumatized animal.

Clearly, it’s vitally important to discipline all the defiance out of your children so they can grow up to well-adjusted members of society. To make this abundantly clear, Dobson described Franklin Roosevelt as a “strong-willed child” who became a “strong-willed man” (8). There is no value judgment of Roosevelt as a person, or President, so one is left to assume that you should dominate your children, lest they become President of the United States. Dobson made it clear that being strong-willed is not a good quality and must be driven out of children (and dogs).

This is virtually identical to the teachings of Michael and Debi Pearl, except the Pearls use Amish horse training as a model.

Dobson wanted a compliant, docile dog (child) that obeys his every command without question. Somehow, that will prepare children for adulthood. To get this result, he advocated parents engage in physical violence and wolf-pack domination to prove how Strong and Courageous they are. The fact that he does not recognize that beating your children and animals can eliminate all their internal desires and wishes is a bad thing should alarm everyone reading him.

I personally owned an abused animal. He was a dog named Freddy. Like Mindy, he was traumatized and we got him from someone who found him on the side of the interstate. I was only five years old when we got Freddy, so I didn’t understand why he acted differently from most dogs. He was deathly afraid of water and loud voices. Looking back, he had all the hallmarks of a traumatized puppy. At times, in my  frustration I lashed out in physical anger. I can remember being confused and somewhat heart-broken by his reactions.

Ironically, around the same time, my parents began reading James Dobson, Michael Pearl, and other Evangelical/fundamentalist homeschooling child abuse advocates. I distinctly remember my early childhood suddenly punctuated by violence against animals – our cat Puddy was an early victim – and Freddy. I was merely modeling the same behavior my parents were using to train me and I saw the impact my cruelty had on my happy dog.

Modern studies of children and spanking show that young children who are spanked are more likely to lash out physically against animals and people.

I learned my lessons and Freddy and I grew to be fast friends over the next decade. Traumatized kids and traumatized animals have a special connection. Unfortunately, part of that is the shared experience of trying to escape the violence of our masters modeled after James Dobson. It disturbs me greatly that Michael Farris thinks this is a good book to recommend, given the giant controversy and deaths associated with the Pearls’ methods.

Even more disturbing: I hoped, somewhere in The  New Strong-Willed Child, I would see Dobson make it clear that spanking infants was a bad idea, but the conclusion to his volume left me almost in tears. A woman, “Mrs. W.W.,” wrote to him complaining about their very young, and very strong-willed child:

“Our third (and last) daughter is “strong-willed!” She is twenty-one months old now, and there have been times I thought she must be abnormal. If she had been my firstborn child there would have been no more in this family. She had colic day and night for six months, then we just quit calling it that. She was simply unhappy all the time. She began walking at eight months and she became a merciless bully with her sisters. She pulled hair, bit, hit, pinched, and pushed with all her might. She yanked out a handful of her sister’s long black hair” (209).

Dobson explained that she “[closed her letter by] advising me to give greater emphasis to the importance of corporeal punishment for this kind of youngster.” His reply consisted of general encouragement and offering hope for the future – nothing of consequence. I can only assume Mrs. W.W. began beating her infant before she was twenty-one months.

Five years later, this mother wrote to Dobson praising his wonderful methods. Mrs. W.W. outlined the two things that improved her daughter: spanking, sometimes creating “an hour of tantrums,” and “allow[ing] her other daughters to fight back with the younger daughter.” Within two days of her older sister “giv[ing] her a good smack on the leg… the attacks ceased.” Mrs. W.W. went on and claimed that “without [the spankings] our Sally would have become at best a holy terror, and at worst, mentally ill. Tell your listeners that discipline does pay off, when administered according to the World of God… I don’t think you went far enough in your book, loving discipline is the key. With perseverance!” (210)

There you have it. I expected, after these letters, James Dobson would offer some sort of “there is a limit to the spankings,” but no. Instead he doubled-down and wrote, “If Mrs. W. reads this revised edition of The New Strong-Willed Child, I want her to know that I had her in mind when I set out to rewrite it.” Because, we must all remember, as Dobson concludes his volume:

“If you fail to understand [your strong-willed child’s] lust for power and independence, you can exhaust your resources and bog down in guilt” (211).