What I never wrote to my father

by Elouise

Dear Dad, thenextfamily.com

When it came to disciplining his daughters, my father often referred to several verses in the King James Version of the Bible.

I love the King James Version (KJV). All my scripture memory work was in its now unfamiliar language. To my ears it’s still beautiful, though somewhat dated, and evokes awe in its choice of pronouns and verbs (thee, thou, goest, comest). Once memorized, it flows easily by heart.

Yet it has limitations. In addition, the language chosen by the 54+ men who translated it between 1604 and 1611 is often stark.

When it came to dealing with me, one of my father’s key verses was Proverbs 16:18 (KJV):

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.

My father believed he was responsible for beating pride out of me. From his perspective, my anger proved I was a prideful little girl intent on getting my superior way. According to him I thought I knew better than he when it came to punishment, rules or decisions.

If I didn’t comply with his will, another proverb told him what to do. I’ve changed the personal pronouns. Proverbs 23:13-14 (KJV) says,

Withhold not correction from the child:
for if thou beatest her with the rod, she shall not die.
Thou shalt beat her with the rod, and shalt deliver her soul from hell.

Before you get angry with my father, think about this: Like many other parents, he passed on what his father did to him. I can’t exonerate him. He  did what he did. He was responsible for what he did; I was not. I do, however, have compassion for him. I know from experience how difficult it is to raise children.

Last week I was reading the Good News Version (TEV) of the same verses in Proverbs 23:13-14:

Don’t hesitate to discipline children.
A good spanking won’t kill them.
As a matter of fact, it may save their lives.

I would still suggest that even a “good spanking” can kill a child’s spirit. Do you or I know a child’s inner spirit? Do you know the spirit this child may be too terrified to show because right now because the main agenda is to grit her teeth and get through whatever you or I decide to do to her vulnerable body?

What is a “good spanking” anyway? Sometimes I needed discipline. Yet I never needed the kind of corporal punishment I received. Corporal humiliation is never a “good spanking.” It’s humiliation of the weak by the powerful. An abuse of power.

Whatever this “good spanking” is about, it isn’t about humiliating a child’s body or spirit. If the point of the proverb is to say parents mustn’t hold back when it comes to disciplining their children, that can be done in other ways.

Here’s how I see it. As an adult, I’m responsible for welcoming children and young teenagers into my life. They’re strangers I’m privileged to get to know and learn to discipline appropriately. It isn’t always easy. Yet hospitality offers me another way to relate to them and to myself.

  • Hospitality welcomes children and young people God sends into my life.
  • Hospitality isn’t overbearing and doesn’t make quick assumptions.
  • Hospitality asks questions and listens.
  • Hospitality gets interested in what children and young people think and feel.
  • Hospitality doesn’t pry or spy on others.
  • Hospitality listens, affirms, and collaborates to solve problems.
  • Hospitality isn’t rude, bossy, impatient or quick to take offense.
  • Hospitality creates and maintains reasonable, healthy boundaries.

I think hospitality is a form of love. I love my father.

Here’s what I never wrote to my father:

Dear Dad,
Please treat me as a human being created in the image of God. That’s all I want. I don’t want to fight with you or disappoint you. I want to be myself and count on you to help me without humiliating me. I want to be proud of myself and proud of you.
Your first-born daughter,

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 November 2015
Image from thenextfamily.com