I Needed the Rod

          In the late 1980s and early 1990s Hoffman Middle School in Houston had a ritual that many students participated in.

          No matter how young the students were at the time, many walked home from school on the last day instead of riding the buses as was customary for many students.

          Inwood Forest and Acres Homes became a major block party on that hot spring day.

          However, when I told my father that I wanted to walk home from school that day he responded with an emphatic no.  At 12 years old my reply to him was watch me.  He simply replied OK.

          Instead of coming home at noon like I was supposed to that day, I made it home around 8 pm.  My mother rolled her eyes at me and my father appeared out of nowhere and gave me the most memorable spanking in my entire life.  Afterwards, I told him that he would never have to do that again.

          While corporal punishment may not have been the correct measure to discipline all children for every “crime,” it was definitely the only discipline that worked for a young Todd A. Smith.

          Many people see the end result and praise my upbringing and my parents definitely deserve a lot of praise, but many people do not know that it took about 18 years to get me to this point.

          My parents dealt with me shoplifting, getting suspended from school, kicked off of the basketball team for pulling a “Ron Artest” years before Artest played for the Indiana Pacers and failing multiple classes in high school before I got my act together.

          While Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson probably went too far with his disciplinary tactics, if it were not for corporal punishment and tough discipline many adults, especially myself, would not be as successful as they are today.

          According to USA Today, “The NFL’s MVP in 2012 was indicted and arrested last week on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child stemming from an incident during which he whipped his 4-year-old son with a tree branch.”

          Photographs show scars on various parts of the 4-year-old’s body.

          The USA Today went on to say, “Corporal punishment is legal in Texas, but going too far can result in a felony conviction that carries a prison sentence of two to 10 years.  Among the considerations are the extent of the injuries to the child, the age of the child and the ‘totality’ of the parent’s relationship with the child, experts say.”

          This unfortunate incident has led many to question how we raise our children and whether the spare the rod, spoil the child mentality should be a thing of the past.

          In a thought provoking editorial in Salon.com on the racial parenting divide, Rutgers University professor and writer Brittney Cooper wrote that while White children are encouraged to explore and be creative, many Black children are taught only to be disciplined and well-behaved, which can lead to a lack of creativity and growth.

          Cooper wrote, “White children in general are raised to be Columbus, to ‘discover’ the world anew and then to manipulate and order the universe to their own liking.  If we take away the colonizing impulse in living this way, I think it would be amazing to have the luxury of raising Black children who also view the world as a space to be explored, a space to build anew.  A space where occasionally, simply because you live there, you can opt to walk in the middle of the street instead of being confined to the sidewalk, much as you might sling your leg across the arm of a chair in your own home, because it is home.”

          The article was so thought provoking that it made me readdress my thoughts on parenting to a degree.

          While I agree with Cooper that Black children can benefit greatly from more freedom, without enough discipline that freedom can be all in vain.

          Although my father was the disciplinarian of the family, my mother gave me that freedom to be myself.  I could speak more freely to her.  My friends and relatives were amazed that I was able to use profanity around my mother while in elementary school.

          The fact that I was allowed to be outspoken around adults like my mother allowed me to develop the personality to be outspoken in the field of journalism even though I live in a culture that is teaching everyone to be politically correct and keep your mouth shut.

          When my tenure in law school ended prematurely, my mother encouraged me to follow my dream while my father thought getting any type of job was all that was necessary.

          The fact that she allowed me to think outside of the box gave me the confidence to start a magazine and a talk show instead of settling for a random job at the post office or as a schoolteacher.

          Nevertheless, that freedom that allowed me to curse around adults led to many problems in school and in the workplace when I was a lot younger.

          However, the discipline that my father instilled in me, along with the freedom my mother gave me allowed me to creatively express my vision through my company, but also gave me the discipline and dedication required to be successful in business.

          While many are debating which way is the best method to raise a child, could it be that children need both that freedom that my mother gave me, along with the stern discipline that my father gave me?

          Too much of either can lead to tragic consequences.

          In between being kicked off of the high school basketball team as a freshman, being reinstated as a sophomore only to be kicked off the team again for bad grades to graduating a couple of years later, I became amazed at how difficult coaching and teaching can be.

          Parenting is like coaching and teaching times 1,000.

          A good teacher and coach will realize that every student or player is different and it is up to them to see what motivates each individual and push those buttons until they reach greatness.

          Some students and players respond better to public chastising while others respond better with positive reinforcement.

          I needed more chastising than positive reinforcement, but I still received enough positive reinforcement to balance out that stern discipline.

          While corporal punishment may not have been necessary for some, for me it was needed.

          My parents never went too far with the corporal punishment, but because they went there when necessary, I have turned into the man, journalist and businessman that God intended me to be.

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