Today I found myself with my son’s toy hammer, threatening to club a baby seal, and wondering how I got to this place (and whether or not the image of his father yelling at him while only wearing his shorts would be an issue discussed in therapy many years from now). You see, my eldest son sleeps with a stuffed baby seal and my other son is addicted to Dora the Explorer, treasuring the tape that has six hours worth of episodes on it. So my wife and I have been doing the whole “take away stuff they like” brand of discipline.

I can’t help but think that things must’ve been easier for my parents. Man, back in the day, everyone could spank me. I had to treat all of the adults in my neighborhood with the same respect that I did may parents, because if I acted a fool, they would spank me, my grandmother would cut a switch, or Lord help me if my folks got wind of it. The whole community had a hand in looking out for and raising the children of the neighborhood. Different voices spoke into the lives of the children; whereas kids may tune out a parent, they wouldn’t as quickly a neighbor. Maybe that was more a peculiarity of a black neighborhood, I don’t know. When we moved to a predominantly white neighborhood, that changed. Then again, we were the only black family in the neighborhood and our neighbors were strangers, not longtime friends and family.

On the other hand, when I bumped into my old elementary school principal at Olive Garden one day, he came up to me and gave me hug and informed me that “we retired the paddle when you left.” And my folks? My dad rarely lifted a hand toward us because, well, he was huge. He only had to look at us. My mom was like the mom in Eddie Murphy’s old stand up routines: she’d pick up whatever was near her to spank us with (and she was a dead eye with her shoes).

Times have changed and the pendulum has swung well in the other direction. I was watching the kids of a friend of mine a couple years ago. We were at McDonald’s and after a round of their trailer park games (“Daddy why don’t you visit us anymore?” “Daddy, why won’t you pay mommy what you owe her?” “Daddy, why are you ashamed to call us your kids?” – and mind you, no amount of protests otherwise makes you look any better), we sat down to eat. The younger one looks me dead in the eye and says “I know how to get you in trouble.” “How?” I ask. “All I have to do is say you touched me in a bad way.” While I’m extremely glad that they know this, I also made a mental note not to be left alone with them again. I know some parents that carry special permission slips signed by judges granting them permission to spank their kids in public. By the way, it’s illegal in Indiana to discipline your kids with anything other than your hand, a lesson a friend of a friend of mine found out the hard way.

Truth be told, I guess I’m not much of a strict disciplinarian. I’m not a big fan of spanking or yelling. I think it teaches them to hit, though I can live with that since I also believe that there are times for them to hit. But I also don’t want to be a bully, I’m more of a talker (I’m not one to raise my voice much anyway, well, except when I’m being silly). I don’t want them growing up scared of me constantly erupting, or never knowing what will set me off. I’ve seen what that kind of lack of security/safety can do to kids and I don’t want to have that kind of relationship with my kids. The biggest thing that I want them to know is that I’m not out to hurt them. And that they are loved.

I suppose that I could take one of those “Disciplining Kids God’s Way” classes that some churches offer, but then I’d have to stop calling them “Beating Kids God’s Way”. I guess my wife and I are overdue for a long range strategy discussion on how we go about disciplining the boys. In the mean time, I’ll muddle through my world of time outs, spankings, and threatening to club a baby seal while holding a Dora the Explorer tape hostage.

All the while explaining that I’m doing this because I love them.

Did I mention that this started when they informed me that they had decided that the vent in their room would make an alternative potty place (so that they could use the bathroom and still watch television)?