“There was a little girl, Who had a little curl, Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good, She was very good indeed, But when she was bad she was horrid.”
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Today’s story is contributed by Elizabeth Parsons.
For a time, I was the kid you prayed you didn’t get. Hard-headed. Smart-mouthed. Opinionated. Disobedient.
Dad? Arch enemy #1 (probably because we are so alike).
What did we fight about? Everything. Bedtime. Friends. TV shows. Madonna. (I worshipped her; Dad was not impressed).
My mission in life: to prove Dad wrong; to show I was right.
Where did I get this obstinate streak? Probably from my lawyer Dad. When he was a kid, he was a handful, too. When he didn’t get his way, he’d hold his breath until he fainted — at least I didn’t do that.
My poor parents, they tried to stay in control. They did all the things “good parents” do. They were consistent. They were fair. They punished me when I was bad, but I kept coming back for more. In this war of wits, I was determined my parents would not win.
One day my Dad reached the end of his rope. We were camping; I was 8. My mom, dad, brother and me. Our neighbors, our close friends, their kids. A perfectly lovely trip, and I was working hard to ruin it.
Crying, pouting, stomping around, I made a spectacle of myself and probably embarrassed the heck out of my poor parents. Mom was at her wit’s end. Threats of grounding, no TV. Nothing worked. Finally, Dad took me aside. “Do you want a spanking?” he asked.
Dad had never spanked me before (hitting was against my parents’ “code”). But I sensed that this was no empty threat. Still, I couldn’t let him win. “Sure,” I sarcastically hissed.
That did it. Generally a gentle man, I had pushed him over the edge. So Dad raised his hand. His face twisted with rage. I braced, grimaced and awaited the blow.
Then something happened. Dad’s look suddenly morphed from anger to heartbreak, hurt and regret. For that brief moment, his hand raised in anger — I saw that he felt like less of a man — like less of a dad. And I had caused it.
Even though my punishment was well-deserved, Dad couldn’t stand how close he’d come to making his little girl hurt. I saw the grief in his eyes… and it was my turning point. This wasn’t war. Mom and Dad weren’t my enemies — they were my family. I wanted no part of hurting them anymore.
Dad and I talked after that. Perhaps our first real talk… so open and frank. “I’m sorry,” Dad said. “And I love you so much,” he went on.
I was sorry too.
“When you act like that, it hurts us,” Dad went on. “We’re not trying to control you, and we respect your free spirit. But please be kind to your mother and me.
We’re not just your parents. We’re people too.”
I can’t say I was perfect after that, but I was better. And my Dad — he told me later — vowed never to raise his hand toward me again. (He didn’t).
Would a spanking have been so bad? I can’t say. But for willful little me, it wasn’t the fear of physical pain that stuck in my mind. It was the emotional pain I saw in my father’s eyes.
It was the first time I looked at my parents as people like me. From that day to this, it made me see through the costume folks wear. They’re simply trying to be, just like me.
Employees, bosses, competitors, even mothers and dads. We may wear different cloaks, but on the inside, we’re all the same folks. I decided never to make anyone’s life harder than it already is.
Liz Parsons is a writer who lives and works in Southwest Virginia. Despite being a pain growing up, she’s very close with her parents now.