I grew up in the 60s, in an era when corporal punishment was considered good for a child and discipline was based on fear.
I attended the local Catholic primary school and remember the nuns’ straps, swinging neatly beside their rosary beads. Even as a young child I could see the irony and contradiction in this. We were already scared of their black habits and the harsh words they hid. But when my sister came home in floods of tears after being told by the nuns, our dad was going to hell because he enjoyed the odd Friday night beer and cigarette, our fear only got worse.
Although the nuns were tough, it wasn’t until I got to high school that the heavy handedness really started. I will never forget my first day, but not for the right reasons. I nervously sat down beside a boy who was doodling on a piece of paper, as I looked across and smiled, the teacher saw me and dragged me to the front of the classroom and bashed me on the side of the head so hard, I burst an eardrum, losing 90% of my hearing.
In those days it was common to have chalk thrown at you, to be knuckled or punched in the back as the teachers walked by or to be shaken by your hair. On one occasion, I was spotted riding my bike the wrong way across a tram line and as soon as I got to school was called to the principal’s office. Without explanation, my burley 6 foot headmaster, selected one of his many canes and belted me 12 times.
Unfortunately it was the same at home and if we said anything our father didn’t like, out came his belt. I often remember my father, saying to my mother ‘What am I going to do with that boy?’, leaving me to wonder, why I was such a bad kid?
With so much negativity I shut down and didn’t do very well at school. I had a mental block and got poor marks which only made matters worse. Although I have gone on to be a successful Sign Writer and Artist with a great wife and lovely children, those childhood scars have stayed with me.
The crazy thing is, I was a really gentle kid. Probably the naughtiest thing I ever did was spray the girls with a water pistol, so I still find it hard to fathom how teachers treated us like they did. Even now when I see a photo of myself, as a small innocent 9 year old boy, I get a lump in my throat and wonder how anyone could threat another so cruelly.
Years later when I had my own children, I couldn’t imaging hitting, hurting or shaming them. If they ever did anything wrong, I would sit down and talk with them about it. By the time they went to high school, we moved to the country. I was determined that they would have a happy, grounded childhood.
One of my proudest achievements is knowing I grew my children up in a happy, supportive and loving environment.