Sunday, September 5, 2010

Picture Day

In my post yesterday, I related a story about the last time my father spanked me. My post was actually about the situation between Lindsay Lohan and Jerry Lewis. Apparently, the comedy legend thinks that Ms. Lohan could benefit from a good spanking. I told the story to sort of demonstrate the differences between the home I grew up in vs. the way she was raised. First of all, I was raised in the 60's and 70's. It was a vastly different time. Fathers still had final authority in their homes. Jimmy Carter was President. The Bee Gees occupied the top five positions on the American Top Forty. I was 17 that spring of 1978. I had just attended my Junior Prom. You might think I was a little old for a spanking. You might be right about that. However, my dad didn't think so. He was a Marine (I don't say ex-Marine because, as Gibbs often points out on "NCIS", there's no such thing) and he felt perfectly justified in expecting his kids to obey him. Up until my junior year, I had. I had been a perfect kid--and A-B student. Don't let the innocent smile fool you. I was in the middle of a big time rebellious streak. I had let my grade in History (a required course) fall to a low C because I hated the teacher. That had never been a problem before. I was listening to KISS music, which really worried my parents. I was also beginning to drink and smoke pot at this time. However, my parents saw this for what it was--my attempt to show them that I was going to make my own decisions from now on. They didn't sit around wringing their hands and wondering what they had done wrong. My dad was very no-nonsense about the whole thing. He told me "You'll either snap out of it or get tired of standing up all the time." I was determined to tough him out and he was just as determined to reign me in. To do this, he used his favorite weapon, the leather belt from his Marine Corps uniform. Here's a pic of my mother and dad when he was on leave. Yes, that's THE belt he's wearing.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not going to start crying about how bad I had it under my dad's roof growing up. I knew I was loved by both he and my mother. It was just a different time. I think my mother was very wise. She knew that the less of a big deal they made out of my little rebellion the quicker it would pass. My dad had other ideas. He knew I was smart; probably the smartest of all his kids. He didn't want me throwing away a a chance to make something of myself. As a Marine he'd learned to value honor. What did it say about me when I was lying, stealing and drinking under age? I remember him once standing in front of me, hands on hips, trying to talk some sense into me while I sat there at the table looking bored. By this time, I was smoking cigarettes (a habit I would continue until I was 45), having sex with boys I hardly knew, ditching school and, when I was caught, ditching detention. In fact, my dad knew I'd had a detention on this particular night and demanded to know why I wasn't at school serving it. That's what had precipitated the little pow wow with Dad. He wasn't the kind to beg or try to make me feel guilty about it by telling me how hard he was working. What he did was lay it out for me. There would be no more cutting class. I was to bring that History grade back up to a B (at least). I was to stop listening to "that God forsaken" KISS. I was going to buckle down and keep my nose to the grindstone. Six months previously, I had been so enthusiastic about my grades that I had been gunning for early graduation the following year. "You're gonna settle down and fly right," he said, shaking his finger at me for emphasis. "Before you blow the whole thing." He knew my life's ambition was to be a writer. I'd wanted to work as a newspaper writer from the moment I knew that such things existed. I remember how he sighed heavily (as he usually did when he was really steamed) and paced back and forth in front of me. I looked at my feet, trying any way I knew to avoid having to look at him. I knew, deep down, he was right. He was always right. "I know one thing for sure," he went on. "You're grounded, young lady, until that C comes up. You can do better than that." I opened my mouth to protest, but he shook his head at me, indicating that it would be wise for me to keep my mouth shut until he was done talking. "I mean it. You're not leaving this house except to go to school. You're gonna learn to snap shit!" "Snap shit" is a Marine Corps expression. It means to stop messing around and start doing what you're supposed to be doing. He sat down next to me and said "Do you think life gets easier when you get older? It doesn't. It gets harder. It's a lot harder without a high school diploma." "I'll get my diploma!" I snapped. "You make a C sound like the end of the world." "When your brother would get C's I'd be happy," he told me. "But you're better than that. You think I want you waiting tables your whole life? You're gonna get that C up, little girl. And you're gonna stop cutting class and ditching detention. If you get another one for ditching this one, then you're gonna serve 'em both. You're gonna take what you've got coming. You hear me?" Boy, did I hear him. Then he left for work. Three nights later, I snuck out of the house and stole his bottle of Jim Beam. I knew, even as I was doing it, that it was wrong. I had a very strong conscience back then and still do. I sat glumly at the park with my friend, Lucy as we emptied the bottle. "My dad's gonna skin me alive," I told her. She had known me a long time and knew my dad well. "Yep, when he finds out, I wouldn't be you for nothing." Some friend. The previous year, Cigi had wanted to go to Chicago with her boyfriend, Tony to see KISS. They were playing the Aragon Ballroom that winter of 1977. Dad said absolutely no way. "You're too young!" Long story short, they went anyway. They would have made it back in time but Tony's car, a small red Datsun, broke down on the way home and Cigi had no choice but to call and ask someone to come and get her. Dad sent my brother. I can still remember him tossing my brother the keys and telling me "Go with him." I was terrified. My brother drove too fast and would race anyone, no matter how slight the provocation. Before we left, Dad handed me a $50 bill. "Tony will need money to get his car towed. Give this to him." He knew if he gave it to my brother, he would spend it on pot. My brother was 18 at the time, 15 months older than Cigi and I. Tony gave my brother good directions on where they were and we found them with no problem. Both of them were drunk. "Dad's gonna kill you" our brother told Cigi knowingly. Brother offered to take Tony home so that he wouldn't have to face Dad. When we got home, it was about 4 o'clock in the morning. Dad had been up all day and he was mad. As mad as I'd ever seen him. He was waiting for us when we came piling in. He'd whittled a switch, which he held in his right hand. He looked at me and my brother. "You two, get to bed." Grateful that everyone was home safe, I went to bed. Dad drove a lesson home to Cigi with that maple switch. I could hear it in my room with the door shut. I never heard a sound out of her though. She was tough. When she came to bed, she vomited into the trash can and fell into bed still in her jeans and black KISS T-shirt. Alcoholism would haunt her until she was 27, when she went sober.

Even though I despised being disciplined by him, I knew he did everything out of love for us. He would have walked through fire for us and protected us with his life if he had to. Next to my mother, we were the most important things in his life. He made sure that we knew we were loved. He would never refuse to hug us or let us sit on his lap. Some of my happiest memories of him was sitting on his lap after I had just gotten out of the tub. I would have wet hair and my pajamas on and I would sit close to him, him teasing me about my freckles. He would always start to count them and make a great show of losing count. God, I loved that man.

I feel sorry for Lindsay Lohan, who recently sent a letter to her father via her lawyer. It was a cease and desist letter telling him to stop trying to contact her. That's the saddest thing I can think of; for a girl to hate her father so much. If he had disciplined her when she was young, if he had established his authority in his home (in a loving way and not as a tyrant), she would have felt that sense of security that I had growing up. All the acting out and crying for attention would never have happened. I wouldn't trade places with her for anything.

1 comment:

Zelle said...

Wowser... awesome blog... a bit of bloodletting.. spilling your guts out on paper and opening up..

My Dad was military. Sadly, all he knew how to do WAS bark orders.. never knew how to love.. never knew the power of a hug. Oh he might pat you on the back..but it was no pat.. it was a WHAP WHAP! His idea of showing love was making sure once a year at Christmas.. the presents flowed out from under the tree to the door of the room. That's how he made up for not hugging or a kind word. I've had traded all those presents for a conversation that wasn't a lecture.. (sighs)