Do Spankings Make You Tough?

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This week in weird NFL topics, Adrian Peterson is being accused of child abuse. I call it “weird” because I don’t think this is why we all got into being football fans. We aren’t sitting around hoping for sad realities to creep into something that’s meant to be fun. None of us bought a jersey to one day have to decide if wearing it means we endorse brain-injured men beating women. But here we are, living in a world where this Sunday, we get to watch Ray Lewis tell us how to feel about parents using a switch. I feel like there are some prison inmates who would be more appropriate for such a perspective, but I digress. What I like about these stories is that you get to hear unfiltered opinions at breakneck speed. Your aunt doesn’t even watch football, but the minute there’s a vegan player, she sees it as an opportunity to post a link about the correlation between eating meat and stronger erections. And you’re like, “Aunt Nancy! Print these out for Thanksgiving!”

The one thought I heard a lot this week was that whether you were spanked or not made you the person you are today. That your childhood of non-spankings are the reason you hold the door open for women, or your weekly appointments with your granddad’s belt are why you’re a tough guy who can handle a Smirnoff Ice in one chug. No spankings equal a good, rational person. Spankings equal a macho, strong person. It felt a little like people debating whose parents got it right.

I was never spanked as a kid, but I was definitely hit. I wasn’t hit in the movie-bad-guy way where he takes his backhand to a woman’s face and she holds it in the direction of the hit for a solid three count, so please don’t call protective services on my parents (I’m also 29, so it would be more embarrassing for me than them). It was like a “whack” that came out of nowhere. You’d be in the supermarket toeing the line with Mom, she’s having one of those “3 p.m. Chardonnay”-type of days, and you get to the checkout and start yelling why you “need that fucking gum.” Then Mom gives the 1995 version of the “this bitch” face and throws you a well-deserved whack across the arm. Was there a mark? Eh, maybe. Was there a statement made? Absolutely. The embarrassment of getting a solid, rightfully placed whack in public that made your world suddenly go into slow motion, did the job. You knew Mom broke the emergency glass for that can of whoop ass, and you were absolutely wrong. From then on, you knew the circumstances that would become “the line.”

So I was never spanked. I have no idea what it’s like to have some sort of “spanking session” (except at a strip club). I never took a crayon to the wall with the idea of redecorating the house and had a moment where my mom walked in and yelled, “Oh fuck no, just wait ’til Dad gets home.” I never spent my entire day staring at the clock, watching it tick, knowing that the pain train was about to arrive at 6:30. I’d imagine it’s the same anxiety as having a condom break and receiving a voicemail from your girlfriend as she leaves the doctor saying, “It’s fine, but we should talk.” What does “fine” mean? Talk about what? Baby furniture? I’d imagine freaking out similarly: “Hey Mom, spank me now and let’s get this out of the way while you’re still a bit weak from Zumba.”

On the other side of that, I was also never in the house with things like “timeouts” or lines like “use your words.” I never told my mom to “shut up” then have her sit me down and ask, “Who taught you that language?” before she left to blame a neighbor for my behavior. We all know that kid. For things like growing up, there’s a spectrum with “spanked kid” on one side and “use your words kid” on the other. I’m assuming most people reading this land in that gray area with me: not spanked, not coddled, just whacked around every now and again as a reminder of who’s the boss.

The most boring reality of growing up in a first world country is that we all grew up in that similar gray. With every mom and pop store that closes, we’re one step closer to walking through the same Walmart with the same aisles, with the only difference being the name of our city on the commemorative mugs at the check-out. So we hold onto the small differences in our lives and try to emphasize them to give ourselves credibility and elevate our stature: “I went to public school, so I have some street smarts,” or, “I grew up poor, so I know how to work hard,” or, “I ate out a stripper, so I know about adventure.” The fact is, we are all very much the same, and one part of your childhood isn’t why you’re tough or smart or a hard worker. Walking around announcing that you were spanked so you “get it,” or you weren’t spanked so “award me the Nobel Peace Prize” is time spent saying and no time spent doing. I would understand that most of all, I grew up with a nanny, so I get being lazy.

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Jared Freid (@jtrain56) is a New York City-based comedian who has been featured on MTV’s Failosophy and is the host of The JTrain Podcast presented by TFM.

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