Few boys enjoy the benefit of being raised by the kind of man’s man who was my father. He was a veteran who served as a U.S. Army medic; a second-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do; and an exemplary athlete with trophies from baseball, softball, tennis, and billiards. He was tough as nails: he once sewed back on a piece of his thumb (without anesthesia!) that he had accidentally cut off while working in the garage; and he had to have reconstructive surgery on his nose because of how many times it had been broken in fistfights or while playing sports.
My father’s own childhood had hardened him up quickly. Now clinical specialists would diagnose such a boy as hyperactive and provide the parents with professional guidance and perhaps even medication. But for a young rascal growing up in a hardscrabble 1950’s family like my father’s, the answer was corporal punishment, and lots of it. That kind of treatment reached a climax in 1968 when my dad, then a sophomore at Auburn University, brought home a terrible report card. My grandfather tried to shove it down his throat, which resulted in him being thrown through a wall by my dad. Months later, my father, then a college dropout, was drafted.
In large part because of his own abusive upbringing, my father, who had a conversion to evangelicalism after his time in the Army, decided to take a different tack in raising me. Corporal punishment was rare. When I tired of participating in so many of the activities he held dear—Boy Scouts, Tae Kwon Do, and even baseball—he didn’t put up a fight. He permitted me to play video and computer games for hours, even on beautiful, sunny days. I was grateful (perhaps naively) that my father took such a gentle, relaxed approach to parenting.