The Way We Were, movie and song, came out when I was in high school, and the thought of me as a teenager nostalgically mooning about when I wasn’t yet old enough to be excessively sentimental about anything amuses me today.
Now that I’m older, I can understand what the lyricist meant by “misty watercolor memories” as I try to remember the details of things that happened rather than just the essence of the event.
While I remember Mother coming for lunch when I was in elementary school and doing all the things that PTA mothers did, and I suppose still do, I have no memory of Daddy ever even setting foot on that campus. I think he came to my junior high school for a band concert once, and he attended a ceremony at the high school for the National Honor Society installation.
In those days, a father being on campus was more likely than not a sign something not so good was going down. But I do remember one other time that he showed up, and that’s where the “misty” part of memories are revealed.
I can’t recall for sure whether it was in junior or senior high school that Daddy made an appointment to meet with the principal and me. In both places, I was familiar with the location of the principal’s office, as my fly mouth would get me sent there on occasion. (Example: “Craig, did you forget to wear your socks today?” “Socks with sandals? Are you mad?”) To add to my uncertainty on this point, the junior high school principal was promoted to the high school at about the same time. Misty, if you will.
Paddling students for misbehavior was fairly common practice back then, and not seen as excessive by many parents who employed corporal punishment at home, using belts, hair brushes, and switches in the place of a paddle. To my surprise, this was the subject Daddy wanted to address.
Maybe he knew the time may come when I would give lip to some teacher and get stretched out over a desk, or maybe it was something else. But in the event, Daddy told the principal, with me as witness, that under absolutely no circumstances was I ever to be paddled. Furthermore, should I do something that would normally result in such punishment, he was to be notified immediately as he would address the issue personally. Mind you, Daddy had a mobile phone in his car—a massive and unusual thing back then—and my relief from being saved from any possibility of a future paddling evaporated in the face of the alternative.
The loathsome prospect of interrupting Daddy in digging holes in the ground faster and deeper than anyone in a four state area would have had me volunteering to be paddled and saying, “Thank you, sir, may I have another?” after every lick.
Somewhere along the line, many parents seem to have moved from augmenting any school punishment to defending their children from the charge of misbehaving in the first place. In too many cases, we’ve gone from “What did he do wrong?” to “How dare you accuse my child?”
That familial, even tribal, response can now be seen clearly in other contexts as well. Maybe this is the way we were, but in any case, it’s the way we are now—at least some of us.
Those who provide a knee-jerk justification to the killings of George Floyd and so many others, including most recently Daunte Wright, strain to excuse the inexcusable. The actual defense in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin seems to rest on the premise that Mr. Floyd’s heart disease and drug use played a significant role in his death. Really? If I fall out on the floor after five or six dirty martinis and Karl puts his knee on my neck for nine minutes, it won’t have been the Grey Goose that killed me.
The horrifying video that came out this week in which 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario was threatened with guns, pepper sprayed, and pushed to the ground by police officers during a traffic stop must be very challenging to the knee-jerks. It must be tough to decide whether to “Back the Blue” or “Support Our Troops” when one can’t do both.
As was his way, Daddy got what he wanted from both the principal and from me. Needless to say, the principal never paddled me, limiting my punishment for minor infractions to lunching at the teachers’ table or a little study hall detention.
Well, except for that time I skipped PE for the better part of four months and got away with it. But I’ll save that one for some snowy night, in front of the fire.