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Taking a Beating
September 23, 2018
by William P. Meyers

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How I learned to take a beating, and its advantages

My parents taught me how to take a beating. They never said that was what they were doing, and perhaps they did not know that was one of the things they were doing.

My parents were both ex-Marines. I presume their own families had given them similarly brutal childhoods, though they never mentioned that. Hitting a child was as natural to them as turning the ignition key on an automobile. I am sure they thought it was worth it to discourage bad behavior, or motivate good behavior.

There are a lot of downsides to being traumatized in childhood by beatings, but here I want to look at the bright side. Despite the positives, I would like to emphasize that I am against beating children, or anyone else.

The first beating I remember was when I was five or six years old. But I am pretty sure I was beaten before then, I just don't remember anything specific. It was our last year on a Marine Corp base, Cherry Point North Carolina. While outside playing I got dirt or mud on my pants. My mother spanked me sufficiently hard that I remember it to this day.

Having established her dominance, my mother, ex-Private First Class, usually got the behavior she wanted by verbal command or threat. There were a lot of rules, and some were very hard to not run afoul of. Also I had a brother and sister, and usually a violation by one sibling meant the punishment of all three.

Beatings usually took the form of spankings, but they were quite hard spankings, your butt hurt quite a while afterwards spankings. They were often combined with embarrassment, bare butt preferred. At first I cried, then I took my mom's beatings pretty well. But mostly I behaved and pleaded with my older brother, who was more impulsive, to also follow the rules. Against that was that sometimes it seemed like Mother, as we were required to call her, was on a rampage that had little to do with our behavior.

I suspect the reason my father beat us less often was partly that he was, on the whole, a bit more easy-going. But mainly he was not home. After he retired from the Marine Corp when I was six (he was 42) he went to college on the GI Bill and worked at a shipping company. When he got a Masters degree he started teaching high school and worked at the shipping company. He was rarely home.

My father did not like his boys crying, not even when he was whaling at us. An ordinary spanking, often done at Mother's request when he returned home, could turn into a painful ordeal if you started crying. He would hit me really hard and say "Stop crying. I'm not going to stop until you stop crying."

So I learned to not cry. So I can take a beating. True, beatings vary in nature. If someone hits you hard enough on the head with a heavy object, you will die, no matter what your general attitude. It can take a long time to recover from a beating, or something with similar impact, like a bad fall.

But if you know you can take a beating you can do things easily cowed people cannot do. They cannot even try to do them. Like standing up for justice.

It isn't that I don't have fears. Nor do I seek physical pain or confrontation. But I know that if I believe something is truly worth doing, and a mere bully is standing between me and the goal, I will not be stopped.

When I was seventeen Mother tried to punch me in the face. I caught her fist and told her never to try that again. I prepared to leave home, since my father was quite a bit bigger than me and trained in hand-to-hand combat. Instead nothing happened. The next day we all went to work (it was summer, I had a job as a lifeguard) as if nothing had happened. A few weeks later I got on an airplane for the first time and flew off to college.

People are complicated. Mother hit kids a lot, and yelled at them more, but she also always had meals on the table on schedule and still worked full time as a typist. Father had had a youth I would not want. Both grew up during the Great Depression. Both of them demanded their children do well in school, well meaning straight A's or else. If their goal was for me to go to college at the Naval Academy so I could become a Marine Corps general, some of the means helped me become a peace and justice advocate.

Finally, I should thank all the civil rights protesters and anti-war activists of the 1960s for helping me to see the light. It took years for their message to get through to me, but eventually I did hear it.

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