I remember being hit with a belt when I was young. I was sitting watching TV at the time, my Dad was standing in the doorway from the lounge into the kitchen by I don’t think I was aware of him. I think he must have been talking to my mother in the kitchen. From my point of view, he suddenly hit me over the legs with a belt; I stared at him in shock and burst into tears. I think I must have said something about my innocence because in the turmoil I got the impression that he thought I was saying something about my mother under my breath and was being punished for it. I remember that incident until this day because I think it was the only time my father hit me. I can imagine my mother slapping me across the legs as a deterrent but not my gentle fun loving father. I don’t know how old I was, probably a young teenager since we moved from that house when I was sixteen. Perhaps it is the miscarriage of justice that keeps it fresh in my mind, but an innocent boy, tried and punished, well, I find it really difficult to come up with any words. It is a really sad episode of my childhood and I can still feel the tears underneath. I assume my father was just having a really bad day and did something that I like to think he regretted it. I know I would.
Yesterday we were having a picnic on the beautiful sunny green banks of the River Tay in Dunkeld. There were seven humans and two dogs. I was holding a partially eaten brown roll filled with serrano ham, manchego cheese, and sun dried tomatoes in my left hand whilst also balancing some manchego and green olive crisps on my palm. I was eaten crisps at the time, when my dog took the opportunity to take a bite out of my roll. He’s a sneaky blighter at times. I reacted quickly and automatically smacked him across his nose with my right hand. I did the hitting without thinking and I know it is something I learnt through growing up with dogs as a child. My mum hit the dogs across the nose when their behaviour did not conform to her standards, and I learnt to do it too.
Times and attitudes change. It is now illegal to hit children in the UK but it is a principle that is flouted I think behind closed doors. Why do I say that? Because sometime you see adults hitting kids in the street, the “good old” slap across the bare thigh. Our understanding of behaviour has changed in recent decades and nowadays we try to do things to reinforce positive behaviour and discourage unwanted behaviour. When my kid’s behaviour is less than required, after a countdown of three, they were told to go and sit on the bottom step of the stairs until they were ready to come back and say sorry. Initially they were carried to the bottom step and guarded, but eventually they would go by themselves, and then just the countdown was enough to stop the behaviour. It was psychological punishment and imprisonment perhaps, but it also gave them the chance to learn to control the situation and make a decision.
It is frowned upon to hit dogs too. I remember accidentally hitting my dog on the nose with the metal clip of the lead once, and for a long time afterwards whenever I lifted my hand or went to get the lead down, he would cringe down to the floor preparing to be hit again. It seemed to vindicate my “no hitting” the dog policy particularly when he stayed at other people’s house for a while and cowered from them because they had hit him too. However it is difficult to break away from my upbringing, and I hit him yesterday. He cowered under my wife’s legs for the next twenty minutes but I made an effort to play with him after the food had been eaten, and he forgave me quickly enough I think. It is difficult to tell though since Charlie was here too. I will need to pay attention when Bobby comes back from a walk with my wife. I wish my Dad had told me he was sorry for hitting me too.
What I find interesting is that with kids we have moved from corporate punishment to imprisonment. It is a very open prison though, and the kids only stayed in it until they could show repentance and understanding of what they did wrong. It makes me wonder whether the whole punishment term of the criminal justice system which is proportional to the seriousness of the crime really needs a good looking at. Would it be possible to retain some people only until they showed understanding and sorrow before testing them in a controlled environment to see if they actually meant it? Perhaps I live in cloud cuckoo land. In a country where apparently a majority of the population would welcome the return of capital punishment, it would seem political suicide to shake up the justice system so radically.