On Monday my son turned 2. Over the weekend Adrian Peterson faced child abuse allegations. I saw the pictures of Peterson’s 4 year old son: http://www.tmz.com/2014/09/12/adrian-peterson-indicted-for-child-abuse/. I didn’t want to see them; I wanted to see them. I viewed them begrudgingly. I knew it’d hurt my soul to see lashes and lesions on such a tiny, harmless, being. I thought of my own son—in all his innocence. I thought of his innocence even when he’s misbehaving—the ways in which he’s simply trying to solve the whole existence thing: what it all means, how we’re supposed to behave, what’s acceptable, what’s taboo, his attempts to answer the most fundamental life question: who am I?
I wondered what drove a bulldozer of a man to that place (have you seen Adrian Peterson)—the place of handling your 4 year old like a man who’d just slapped your wife. I knew the narrative behind his childhood and his off and on again relationship with his father (his father served prison time, I believe). Hell, I’ve been a Peterson supporter since his first snap at Oklahoma. I knew this had to be some kind of learned behavior. I didn’t necessarily blame Peterson. I thought what he did was fucked up, but I wasn’t pointing fingers. I knew the diagnosis he needed was outside my wheelhouse—I’m not a psychologist—I know some fucked up shit when I see it, but I can’t pretend to always know the whys behind it. And in observing the public’s reaction to it all, I realized there were a bunch of other things I didn’t know. I didn’t know this incident would elicit disgusting enabling, didn’t know it’d provide a canvas for us to brag about getting our asses beat like criminals, didn’t know so many people are so satisfied at what they’ve become—who they’ve become.
We didn’t do much for my son’s birthday weekend. For the most part he was allowed to pig out and poop unapologetically. The boy had muffins, cupcakes, and tacos galore. He had a blast. His happiness sprayed across his face as if it was permanent—tattoo like. On Sunday we watched the Packer game and blasted Wiz Khalifa, “We Dem Boyz,” each time a touchdown was scored—his dance moves seem to improve every week. I was curious as to whether he knew it was his birthday. I’m sure he knew something was up (normally his diet is closely monitored), but I’m not sure he knew it was his birthday.
As we celebrated last weekend, I kept seeing Peterson’s 4 year old in my son. I wondered how much more weight my son would gain in the next two years (he’s about 28 pounds now). How much more height he might add. I thought about the hurt in his face when I’m slightly off balance and slightly raise my voice in the name of disciplining—the look he gives reminding me of the things I stand for.
Look, I know raising kids ain’t easy. I know kids will push us to places of self-exploration we had no intentions of going. I’m not interested in holistically telling folks how to raise their children (although I tend to believe we belong to the world—I’m uncomfortable with the idea that we have the right to mold our children into anything we’d like). This considered, it’s difficult to explain how disappointed I was to hear so many people excuse the abuse of the child in this particular case. And I hoped that I’m surrounded by people who would never excuse me for behavior anywhere close to this (emphasis on close). I was astonished to hear people speak so glowingly about the time their fathers, mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers laid a switch, belt, paddle, hand to them; how many people reminisced and high-fived at the memory of getting their asses beat, how many people proclaimed “I turned out ok.” Did you?
At the end of last week, I was listening to ESPN radio and Colin Cowherd’s radio show. He was discussing the Adrian Peterson situation and speaking to the public’s embracement of corporal punishment. And at one point he mentioned the whole “I turned out ok” rebuttal and asked a question I’d been thinking about for a few days: did you?
Things could be better. Things could have been better. When I think of the folks I know personally whose parents beat their asses growing up, they all seem to have an array of behavioral complications—starting with emotional. The obvious response is that we’ve evolved and things that were acceptable, culturally, 30 years, 40 years, 50 years ago just aren’t accepted anymore. This is true. But this aside, I think it’s valuable to consider the ways in which our life experiences may have shaped us, not just positively, but in problematic ways. Just because you don’t rob or hit people over the head don’t mean you turned out ok. For me, I could’ve done without the times I was called the N word on a playground of the predominantly white elementary school I attended, my aunt could’ve done without the time that guy went upside her head, and my sister could’ve done without my parents’ divorce. But hey, we turned out ok.
I can remember almost every time when growing up I thought my life was in danger: the time when they were shooting around the corner, or down the street, or 50 feet away from me. I can remember all the times we ran from gunshots, or the times some divine intervention saved a dire situation. And I turned out alright? Fuck that. I don’t want my son to ever experience these things. And while yeah, maybe, I turned out alright, I’m sure if I sat down and spoke with a professional, they’d have some things to say about the lifelong effects of these life experiences (possibly why every time I hear any loud noise, I instinctively am prepared to duck). And while yeah, maybe writing books of poetry and teaching is really cool, in some parallel universe I may be curing cancer or helping to feed impoverished communities. And you, maybe instead of that job you detest so much, and that spouse you argue with so much, and those kids you yell at so much, you could love going to work, have the ability to be more affectionate with your children, know the power of words when negotiating or disagreeing—maybe, just maybe, if you didn’t have all those ass whippings you like to laugh so much about.
And I’m not suggesting we come down on our parents, uncles, aunts, or grandparents who raised us and how they raised us. They did the best they could. But I am suggesting that we take time to reflect on right and wrong, on our responsibilities to the information we have, on how child abuse is just that. And I’m saddened to know that if something like this was to ever happen to my son (in some parallel universe where I’m not really me or his mom is not really her) there would be droves of people who wouldn’t come to his defense, who wouldn’t protect him, who would proclaim they “turned out ok” and assume my/OUR child will.