Rituals of Submission | Part 1 of 2
I was groomed to be a victim. No one used those words, but that was the sad outcome of supposedly good intentions.
My father’s mission was to break my will. This wasn’t a secret. It was in keeping with biblical teaching as he understood it. One day he would answer to God about his efforts. I would have to answer for mine.
I had at least two strikes against me. I was born first—a baby girl, not the baby boy my father hoped for all his life. In addition, I was born with a will. In some ways having a will was worse than being female. A submissive little girl was preferable to a rebellious little girl.
As my father explained more than once, from the first time he heard me cry he knew I was angry and stubborn. When I was in my 50s he described how he studied me early in life and decided that I was like his own father. I too had an anger that just fed on itself. He said that if he didn’t beat the anger out of me, I would grow up to be just like my grandfather.
Grandpa would begin talking normally, and then work himself up to violent anger. He was capricious and unpredictable. Worse, it didn’t seem to matter how long ago the offense was committed. For my father, punishment usually meant beatings in the barn using a harness strap.
My father decided not to replicate my grandfather’s tactics. They inflicted too much physical damage and weren’t always timely. He said Grandpa’s mistake was to punish in hot anger, without regard for how long ago the supposed offense occurred or for the nature of the offense.
So my father took a different approach. No capricious or unpredictable beatings from him. Instead, he relied on disciplined spanking. Calm, planned and deliberate. Systematic and predictable. No explosive hot anger. No unnecessary delay. Just a cool, focused, timely approach. No raised voice, no abusive language, no physical struggle. Just a series of events that required my full submission if we were to get through this without going through the entire ritual again.
The year before he died I told him how terrified I was every time he punished me like this. His response? My terror was nothing compared to his! Why? Because he never knew how far he would have to go with me. I could scarcely believe my ears.
Yet his words were in character. In his eyes I was a challenge he was going to meet, seemingly no matter what the cost. I thought his method was uncannily like that of his own father, with an added edge of emotional and psychological terror.
According to my parents I was about 2 years old when the ‘spankings’ began. The last time this happened to me I was 15 years old, going into my senior year of high school.
Two years ago I wrote down what still burned in my body memory. I started at the very beginning and described each step. This was the first time I had ever told myself the truth about what happened, especially the truth about what was happening inside me. What follows is an abridged version.
Step One: Does my offense call for corporal punishment?
I wait while my father deliberates, sometimes in another room. My fear escalates. Perhaps it would be better to confess my sin and repent right away, but I don’t take this route.
He decides he’s going to have to spank me and delivers this verdict to me. My heart sinks and my body goes into high alert. Sometimes he already has the ‘rod’ in his hands; other times he asks me to go get it. I’m trembling with fear; my legs feel like water. I drag my feet, trying to postpone the inevitable.
Question: Do you know why I’m going to have to punish you? I give him my version. I know he won’t agree, and that pleading or arguing with him will get me nowhere.
No matter what he thinks of my version, he then gives his own explanation of what I have done to deserve this. He speaks in a rational, controlled, ‘loving,’ calm and cool voice. I disagree with his diagnosis and with the prescribed medicine, but I dare not let a flicker of disagreement cross my face or come out of my mouth. He’s watching my attitude. My attitude is sheer, unadulterated fear—heightened by this one-way discussion.
Once again: Do you understand why I’m going to punish you? Yes or No. Only one answer is acceptable. I give it. Inside I’m a boiling-over cauldron of fear.
He reminds me that this will hurt him much more than it hurts me. I don’t believe him for an instant. Ever.
Step Two: Punishment
He instructs me step by step, reminding me that the longer I take to get ready, the worse it will be. How could it possibly be worse? Humiliation, fear, shame, totally at his mercy, no place to run, nowhere to hide, body melting with fear and dread, no one to intervene or plead on my behalf.
It gets worse. I hold my breath as long as I can, trying to contain my tears. This is my strategy for getting through. That, and silently repeating parts of Psalm 23 to myself over and over. Holding my breath doesn’t work for long.
He persists. This won’t end until he decides my sobs sound like real repentance, real sorrow, and real submission—without traces of resistance in my body, my voice, my tears or my attitude. I know my tears are not tears of genuine sorrow and repentance. They’re tears of pain, desperation and anger because I’m trapped with absolutely no exit and no advocate in sight.
Step Three: We’re not finished yet
The beating stops. He watches me. It takes every internal resource I have to keep my body language in check. If he sees any hint of rebellion or if I take too long to stop sobbing or gulping for breath, he might give me “something to really cry about.” I know from painful experience that this is not an idle threat.
He asks me why I’ve just been punished. I tell him what he wants to hear.
He instructs me to apologize for whatever I’ve done and to ask forgiveness. I work hard to display the right tone of voice, choice of words and attitude. Even so, it takes a while to convince him.
Step Four: Prayer of confession and assurance of love
It’s time for a closing prayer. He has me pray first—confessing my sin to God, telling God how sorry I am, begging God’s forgiveness. Then he prays that I will learn to do correctly whatever it was that I did wrong.
I see a light at the end of a dismal tunnel. We’re almost there.
Finally, he hugs and kisses me, and requires me to do the same with him. I comply. He reminds me that even though it may not seem like it, he and my mother love me very much. He also reminds me that as the eldest daughter I have an added responsibility to set a good example for my sisters.
He quizzes me: Do I understand this?
Whether I do or don’t isn’t the point. Saying Yes out loud is the point—the last nail in the coffin of my shame, humiliation and deep, deep anger.
I always say Yes.
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 January 2014
For Part 2 of this post, click here.