I got my first dog when I was 27.
I found her in the Want Ads on a Saturday morning — “Cocker Spaniel Puppies for Sale!” —- and she was an impulse decision. It was 1992. I’d just divorced my first (practice?) husband and moved to Phoenix for a new beginning. I remember I drew a red-ink circle around the ad and, honest to god, lost my freaking mind because within a few hours I was a single woman in a Phoenix apartment who worked long hours and traveled some and, suddenly, had a black and white cocker spaniel puppy and no idea what to do with her.
Besides love her. Of course.
She ate everything: an expensive necklace I dropped on the floor, pantyhose, magazines, socks and underpants, a toothbrush, my teensy-diamond earrings, a portable phone, dish towels, the linoleum in my teensy kitchen.
I spanked her.
And yet she ate the linoleum. At least three more times.
This week I’m listening to all of the men — mostly black, retired, NFL players like Charles (bastion of good living) Barkley — talk about spanking. Whipping. Whoopins. Beatings. Given with “love.” And I’m calling bullshit.
No human being on this planet hits or whips or lashes out at or beats any other living being, unless it’s in private where no one can see, except when it’s within their own, often unreasonable, anger. So anyone out there (Charles Barkley, Adrian Peterson etc….) who says, “I’m doing this because I love them,” is full of it. You are not excused. None of us — not even me — are excused.
Like Charles and Adrian, I grew up this way too. And I “turned out fine” as seems to be the catch-phrase. But here’s the reality. I desperately hated and harbored hatred for every single person who hit me in their anger, whether I “asked for it” or not. If you think you can strike another living being in love, you are, at the very least, deluding yourself.
When my kids were teenagers, I used to tell them this: If you wouldn’t want it on the front page of the newspaper, don’t do it.
When you hit or whip someone, let’s face it, the act is shrouded in privacy. And why? Because as a human being you know it is wrong and you would be embarrassed, humiliated even, if anyone saw you.
Just like I would have felt if, at age 27, anyone had seen me strike my cocker spaniel puppy on the rear “to teach her a lesson.” A lesson she, of course, never learned. Because none of us, not even dogs, learn anything, anything at all, from violence.
I got a lot of whoopins as a kid. I had a big sassy mouth. I was loud. I walked loud. I laughed loud. I had opinions. I pushed it. I remember being afraid of my stepparents, of my grandparents, of my aunts and uncles. This did not make me behave any better AT ALL. But it did make me more secretive, more of a liar, more of a fake-crowd-pleaser. It made me into a girl, and woman, who pretended I loved people I only feared.
When I was little, my grandmother whipped my baby brother in his crib for crying. I can still hear the sound of her hand on the plastic of his diaper. I told my mother. Which only made me a tattletale. And my grandmother, as I recall, did not acknowledge or even speak to me for months. I was devastated to lose her affections. Lesson learned.
When I married my husband and he had two kids — ages 9 and 15 — I arrived with my cocker spaniel. The kids nicknamed her The General.
The General, because she’d gotten an unsightly haircut by a new groomer and looked like she was wearing a helmet. And because her personality could be, let’s say, challenging.
The General. The name stuck. She ruled the house. And she was insanely loved and fussed over for the next decade until she passed.
I remember being a new mother — a stepmother — at this time and how fraught that was with evil definition. Can you imagine what might have happened if I’d struck one of my new children with my hand? With a tree branch? Left scars?
I’d have been arrested and booked. Period.
Looking back from so many years, I believe I hit my little dog because I’d been hit. I never did it again because I saw the horror of it, saw the horror of myself, immediately. Hitting another living being is a lazy and monstrous act. If you wouldn’t want it on the front page of the newspaper, don’t do it. Right?
So how is it that we think hitting a wife or girlfriend — or especially a child — is okay? Why do we call it domestic violence versus just violence? Why is only violence against strangers a crime? If I haul off and strike you in a restaurant, I’ll be arrested. And charged. And booked. And quickly. Yet, you’re my wife or my baby or my dog, I get right off and go out to live my life.
Here’s a message directly to Charles Barkley and Adrian Peterson and Reggie Bush and everyone else who claims that they got whipped and they “turned out okay.” I turned out okay, too. Which is a laugh. I still know it’s wrong. It is wrong to strike a living being — stranger or family member or baby or animal — because we are meant to be loving, living beings in this world. And because violence, of any kind, continues to teach us nothing.