A Thundering Velvet Hand

Kids these days look with shock and amazement when parents talk about the spankings that they received as children. In fact, the department of human services would probably bring today’s parents up on charges of child abuse if they employed some of the discipline tactics moms and dads used in the 50’s and 60’s. Back then, my dad was a master of discipline in our house.
I’ll begin by saying that my mother was the enforcer for most of the punishment meted out to my two brothers and me. She was a short woman at 5’2”, but she could wield a paddle, belt, or switch as well as any giant of a man. She was a teacher, so many other children experienced her prowess with the “board of education.” We boys dreaded hearing her footsteps hit heavy on the wood floor of our home because we knew that she “had had enough!”
Still, it was Dal Rector who truly struck fear in the hearts of his three sons. Daddy was a no nonsense type of person. He worked hard at Southern Extract, a paper mill located in Lonsdale. Split shifts cut into his sleeping, and poor pay and constant worry added to his bad mood. My twin brother is much like Daddy, and his friends, children, and extended family refer to him as a sometimes hateful old bear. That tag fit our dad as well.
No, Daddy didn’t administer too many spankings. Only a couple remain in my memory. One was the result of misbehaving at the supper table. On that summer evening, the family had sat down for the meal. We always began with “God is great, God is good, and we thank Him for our food.” On this night Jim and I made it only that far when we burst out in laughter, the result of having the giggles and bringing them to the supper table. Our irreverence infuriated Daddy. He scooted his chair from the table, walked to the hallway, retrieved a razor strap that hung from one of the coat racks, and returned to the kitchen. He then tanned both our hides. Weeping and gnashing of teeth ensued, and Daddy realized that his anger had gotten the best of him. He’d used a strap that he considered was much too large for punishment. His actions tormented him, and he left the house, got in the car, and sped away. Jim and I stood in the driveway and cried over the spanking and whether or not our dad would ever come home again.
The next incident came when Daddy caught us smoking. Jim and I were probably in third grade, and our older brother Dal was in the seventh. Daddy was addicted to cigarettes but wasn’t about to have his sons pick up the habit. He asked us about missing cigarettes from his pack, and when we lied, he began the spanking. Our bottoms were sore, but our consciences hurt more because we’d lied to him.
That was the thing about Daddy. He rarely spanked us. Yet, he could easily have us crying with “the look.” His expressive green eyes seemed to look into our very souls, and they showed the hurt and disappointment that we had caused. That was especially true when it came to education. Daddy had made it only through the sixth grade. Then he dropped out to help at home. For the rest of his life, he felt inferior to others, even though he had wisdom far beyond what most educated people had.
If we boys did poorly in school, he sat us down at the kitchen table and asked what the problem was. He listened and then told us that we better not bring in a bad grade again. Daddy never raised his voice, but we shook with fear that we would disappoint him. If a misconduct note came home or if we received anything less than perfect comments on behavior, the man was livid. He told us that we might not always be able to make perfect grades, but we knew how to behave and we had better do so.
My dad died in 1965. Forty-two years later, I remember the times that he disciplined us. As Dan Fogelberg sings in the “Leader of the Band,” Daddy disciplined with a “thundering velvet hand.” I wish he’d been around longer so that I could have learned more about that kind of discipline for my own kids.