It was like a scene from the Breakfast Club. I was Bender who just couldn’t shut up and my Dad was Vernon doling out more and more weeks of restriction. I couldn’t control my emotions. To be fair, I was only 13 so things were a bit precarious in the hormone department at that time. I loved to be right and I refused to lose an argument. If getting the last word in were an Olympic event, I’d have more gold medals than Michael Phelps. This particular battle of wills took place while bowling. Yeah..bowling.
My dad had taken me to practice one weekday afternoon. The fact that this was a weekday afternoon is probably the only reason that the events were able to unfold as they did. The center was empty except for Dad and me. I would rarely lose my shit in front of others. My mom taught me that you never air your dirty laundry with an audience, you hang it all out on your loved ones instead and in private. We had managed to get a couple of games in before things went south. I started missing the pocket and exhibiting other such signs of adjustments needing to be made. As should have been expected my Dad, who was a coach, started to coach me. I was having none of that on this particular day. Every piece of advice he offered was met with a grimace and an “I know!”. It didn’t take long for my snarky responses to evolve into a full blown tantrum. Complete with me kicking the ball return following a bad shot and a tossing in a few coveted bad words at opportune times. My Dad, bless him, kept it together much longer than anyone should. He finally told me to sit my ass down in one of the hard plastic swivel seats and shut the fuck up. I didn’t. “You’re grounded for a month” he said through clenched teeth. “So!” I yelled back. He anted up “2 months then!”. “I don’t care” accented with a dramatic eye roll. “3 months. Do you want to keep going?” he asked with exasperation. “Yep!” I’m no quitter. “6 months then. Now pack up your shit and let’s get out of here”.
As we drove home, Dad tried to counsel me on the events of the day with topics as wide ranging as my form and delivery while bowling to my horrible bargaining skills. I think he was actually trying to find a way to give me an out from the punishment. If I could have just brought myself to listen and apologize, things would have probably ended much differently. But I didn’t. I sat silently without looking at him, feeling victimized. When we pulled into the driveway at our house, I wordlessly jumped out of the car and stormed inside heading immediately for my bedroom. He appeared in the doorway shortly afterwards. “I have a proposal for you. Come upstairs and talk to me when you’re ready”. Still not wanting to give an inch I made him wait for at least 15 minutes before I followed the instructions. “I’ll erase the grounding if you take a spanking instead.” My parents weren’t spankers, so I really had no concept of what the process would entail and, again, due to lack of bargaining skills, I jumped at this offer without establishing any ground rules.
Back in my room waiting for Dad to arrive and deliver the replacement form of punishment, I felt giddy about my victory. A little pain for a brief time or being a hostage for 6 months? No brainer! The bliss faded and my stomach clenched as soon as he entered the room. The “paddle” in his hand looked like a cross between a cutting board and one of those trays that brew pubs use for delivering their sampler platters. It was equipped with a handy leather wrist strap, holes down the middle for maximum sting, and a cute little title scrolled on it in a beautiful flowery font “Mom’s little helper”. In that split second of terror, I racked my brain to remember where I had seen that hateful piece of wood. Then it came to me. For years it had hung next to the wall phone with the 25 foot curly cord in the kitchen. Although our house was always super clean, the paddle was dusty. We had all looked at it every day as we grabbed the box of Honey Nut Cheerios from the kitchen cabinet or spun the reel 7 times to connect with friends or family, but never really saw it.
“Pull your pants down” he said quietly. “What? Really?” I asked with a quivering half laugh. “Yes and then lay facedown on the bed” he responded. Even though this was a whole new thing to me, Dad seemed to be pretty familiar with the process. I did what I was told and without any argument for the first time all day. “I’m going to start now” he warned. I could hear him breath a sigh as he prepared to level the first blow. I quickly turned my head to face in his direction and could see the paddle raised above him nearly touching the ceiling and his face clenched in a fierce scowl. And then…FIRE! The searing pain radiated into my feet. I buried my face in the bedspread hoping it would be over quickly. After 5 more cracks, it was. Quiet. I lay motionless, my face still pressing deeply into the mattress. My Dad tried to comfort me by placing his hand on my back and saying “I’m sorry”, his voice shaking. I violently shook his hand away and pulled up my pants. I didn’t cry. I wanted to more than I ever had before and not because of the physical pain, even though it was significant, but because I couldn’t believe my Dad had just done this to me. How could my Dad who was the most gentle and lovey dovey guy I knew, want to hurt me? I snarled “Go away!” and he did.
As quickly as my submission had arrived, it was gone again. I lay plotting my revenge for the next 30 minutes. What could I do to get back at him for this indignity? No matter how disrespectful I had been at the bowling alley, I didn’t deserve to be hit right? Already forgotten was the fact that I had chosen this option. Already swept under the rug was the fact that I had epitomized “spoiled fucking brat” for a good portion of that day. I could have said “nope, I’m good with my 6 month sentence”, but I didn’t. I searched for some way to hurt him and I found it. It was at that moment that I began to cry. I don’t know if it was me just preparing to make him feel as shitty as possible so tears were needed to that end, or if I was feeling sorry for myself and really getting into victim mode. Either way, the tears set the stage for the horrible closing scene that day.
My dad was sitting at the kitchen table, head in his hands and looking shaken. I remember that now. At the time, all I could see was someone I wanted to hurt. I walked right up to him with my right hand clenched. As he turned to look at me, I extended my arm and opened my hand to reveal the orange single blade pocket knife he had given me several years prior. It was one of my most beloved possessions and he knew that. “I don’t want this anymore. I don’t want anything from you” I said. As my Dad’s face scrunched up and he burst into tears, I turned and walked away. In that moment I felt as if I had just conquered childhood. I would become the patron saint of spanking victims for centuries to come. Heralded as the foremost “get backer” ever known to man. What I know now, after years of this memory invading my thoughts, is that I’ve actually been grounded for 33 years.