Our dog is something of a rescue dog – she was turned over to a veterinary clinic with a gash on her head and one eye-ball literally hanging out. We took responsibility for the dog ($800 over two years). We do not know her age. Obviously we know she suffered some trauma in her life. She is a seven pound Pekingese. The other day she was following me around our yard. I was not aware she was behind me. I remembered something in the house and turned quickly – the dog flinched and crouched as if she expected to be smacked on the head. It is evident that at sometime in her unknown past she has been treated very poorly. What sadness.
There is a cruel hoax in America – and probably other places – but I know about America. I will speak to what I know. Sometimes I am infuriated with Christian Conservatives. I ask myself, why? What have they ever done to me. And why would I care if someone wants to invest their life in illogical superstition? My honest search of my inner feelings revealed that my issue is not just with Christian Conservatives – my issue is with the cruelty of misused, or abuse of, power to control others. I know about these things because I have been guilty of these crimes against humanity. The greatest sin is that of abusive parenting. My dog reminded me of one of my grandchildren.
Last fall we were preparing to shoot clay pigeons, skeet, whatever. Our clay thrower is a single shot, spring loaded contraption. It has three pegs to be pounded into the ground to hold it in place. We usually put something heavy on it to hold it down. I had a bag of concrete mix in my garage and asked my grandson to load the concrete in the truck. He picked it up, walked over to the truck and placed it on the tailgate. The bag split and a puff of concreted dust burst out. I looked and that grandson had the same crouching flinching look of my dog – he was expecting harsh reprimand. I knew where that reaction came from – I have seen his step-father belittle him for minor infractions.
It has been almost forty years since I first acknowledged to myself that something was inherently wrong with me. By chance and good fortune I fell into a professional career – offices and suits and ties and the image of success. But something was amiss. I could feel my conflict with polite society. My upbringing was designed to prepare me for factory floor work. It was forty years ago last January that I walked into my own office and hung my suit coat on my own coat rack. It was the beginning of years of soul searching, of struggling to fit in, of holding back my desire to punch someone in the face. Being honest with oneself is perhaps the most difficult of propositions – especially when one is flat-ass wrong about life.
What has this to do with Christian Conservatives or Power Parenting? Because I wore a suit and looked like a “significant adult” to fellow church goers I was invited to participate in the leadership of the church. We attended church back in those days because we thought that was what we were supposed to do – it was how we were supposed to raise our children. The term “significant adult” was actually used by my pastor to describe my new role in the church. I had arrived; I was declared a “significant adult” by no less than God himself. YIKES! Trouble was close at hand.
There was no awareness on my part at the time that my societal programming from my youth was one of intensity and intimidation to manage those around me. My office environment quickly informed me that punching someone in the face would not be accepted – so I just substituted harsh sarcasm as a means of figuratively pounding others. Others in my office did the same – it turns out that these folks were also failures at politeness. The power games spilled over into the church.
As I entered my thirties my power attitude shifted focus to my young but growing children. My only redeeming quality was that I suffered great pain after any use of power to manage my children. I could feel it; I knew it was wrong; but it felt like it was a part of my personality – my question to myself became simply: Can I change my fundamental understanding of my world? This is serious business folks. My life tools were programmed beginning at about age three days – that is when I came home from the hospital and my parents took control.
While there is no excuse for poor parenting it is useful to understand where my parents came from. They grew up in the depression and my father marched across France and Germany in World War Two. He came home, they married, he got a job, and they had children – and they taught what they had been taught. Your fault, my fault, nobody’s fault – it was what it was.
At age twenty my programming was no longer software – it was hard wired into the fabric of my being. I learned new tools. I learned about assertiveness. We actually took Assertiveness Training classes. My wife and I took Parent Effectiveness Training classes. I studied religion – liberal, conservative, Mormon, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian – none of it worked for me. I studied psychology – Jung, cognitive behavior, family systems, 12 steps – anything that might shed light on my tools of self-evident cruelty.
Life is not so easy. Once learned, our life tools cannot be unlearned. In my case I did manage to put the tools of power and control in a box and the box was put back in the dark recesses of my mind. Most of my life today is governed by a new set of rules, rules that are well accepted as kind and thoughtful. But that box of old tools remains available.
When life throws me a curve ball, a surprise, around something that is emotionally significant to me – my gut reaction is to reach for the hammer with the worn and smooth handle – the one that my father gave me at age five. That hammer has a very familiar and comfortable feel. Under great stress that hammer is the tool of choice. When my children were young that hammer had not yet been relegated to the box – it was always laying close by. Ironically – it was the power of my love for my children that forced me to rethink the hammer and to finally put it in the box in the back of the garage.
I know about fear. I know about power and control. I know about power parenting. I am intimate with intensity and intimidation. I see these qualities in Christian Conservatives. I see these qualities in second amendment fanatics. The tools of power, control, intimidation, intensity, and aggression are the fundamental tools of fanatics. These are the tools of people who do not look at themselves as problems – these are the tools of people who blame the world around them. The cruel hoax is the presentation of these tools as necessary to achieve some self defined righteous goal.
I sometimes feel the intensity of life, when fear overtakes me, I reach back in time for a comfortable tool. When I do so I am wrong.
The greatest abuse of these tools is in the realm of parenting. When the boy flinches with fear we know we have gone too far.
These are things I know intellectually – and these are things that I have been unable to completely incorporate as a part of my being. I sometimes reach for the smooth handle of comfort.