Saturday and Sunday mornings during the summer, I usually get up around 8:30 and go swimming for nearly an hour in one of our community’s pools.
Swimming is my time to think, dream, work through problems. If I can find my rhythm, which I usually do, my body feels like a well-oiled machine as it slips through the water. It feels beautiful. More than that, when I swim outside, I get to enjoy the beauty of the sun as it’s just barely making its way over the tops of the trees that hover around the pool, casting dappled light over half the pool. The birds are out gathering their food or taking sips of water. The air is still crisp, which makes being in the pool seem like a warm sanctuary. Best of all, though, is that normally there aren’t any people. Most people don’t start arriving until around 10 AM.
There is a family who lives up by the big pool in my community, I’ve seen them a few times before. The dad brings a kit for testing chlorine levels and is very militant about checking the levels and announcing to his family of two little boys and his wife whether the water is safe or unsafe. They usually arrive just after 10 AM. If I’m running late, I usually see them there.
I remember a particular Saturday that occurred last September in great detail, because most of this post was originally written, but saved as draft, after that experience.
The younger boy, maybe 4 or 5, ran over to the jacuzzi and went to hop in. His dad was hot on his tail and proceeded to berate the child. Telling him things like, “Dude, you know you don’t go in there! Look at the water! It’s green and yucky. How many times have I told you, when the water’s like that you don’t go in. Look, sheez, it’s only at 85°, that’s disgusting!” The little boy sniffled and walked over to his mom for reassurance.
The older boy did something and the little boy retaliated, just in time for his dad to catch him, but not his brother. His dad hit him in the middle of his back with his fist, a place he couldn’t reach to rub the pain away, causing (I assume) a charlie horse. His little back arched ineffectively to avoid the pain and the little boy started to cry. The dad berated him, yet again, telling him to behave, not to bother his brother. He was sent to time-out on one of the chairs.
At that point, I finished my laps and went over to shower. The mom and older boy got in the pool, the younger boy slowly joined them where laughter and giggles ensued. The dad got in the pool and swam over to his wife, the youngest boy was holding onto his mom. As his dad approached, in excitement, he let go of his mom and swam to meet his dad. Somehow, something happened that his dad popped him with his elbow in his face. I’m not sure what was hit, his nose or his eye, there was no blood, but his hands were covering both and the crying was immediate and loud.
I should note at this point that it was an accident on the dad’s part, at least I hope so, but also, that the little boy’s crying was authentic. It was real tears, from real pain.
The dad immediately responded to his son’s tears by yelling in exasperation, “You can’t just swim up to me when I’m not expecting it! I didn’t see you. Jeez! You’ve got to let a person get situated before you go swimming up to them! I didn’t see you!” There was no apology, no coddling, not even any apparent affection. Just… meanness, excuses and blame placing.
They’d been there less than 5 minutes and I was starting to feel stressed. Beyond that, though, I just felt sad. Going to the pool is supposed to be a fun thing. Something you do during the summer for laughter and relaxation. That poor kid had spent most of his time there crying and in pain and … as best I could tell, he was just being a kid. He hadn’t even done anything wrong to warrant that kind of discipline. Was that even discipline — to hit your kid in the middle of his back and berate him? Worst of all, the tears and pain were caused by his dad, someone who should be protecting and loving him. And what about their mom?
I mean, I received discipline growing up, I certainly got my fair share of spankings and talkings-to. Although truth be told, I was one of those kids who, if you looked at me sideways I was in tears, but still… my point is, I believe I know the difference between discipline and abuse. Personally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a well placed swat on a child’s behind or firm words… but this was something entirely different.
Watching them, it made me hurt inside. I felt tears welling up and I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. And I’ve asked myself if there were something I should have or could have done? I don’t know… what those kids were experiencing was definitely emotional abuse, but the rest of it wasn’t enough for action to be taken by anyone official because the child wasn’t visibly harmed.
How does one get to the point in their life that they don’t even see the perfection standing in front of them in the form of a beautiful wife and two healthy little boys?
What resurrected the remembrance of this post is that I saw them again last week.
In the eight months since I saw them last, the younger boy has had a growth spurt and is the same size as his older brother. I think he remembered me from last year, because he looked at me sidelong behind his dad’s back and gave me the most beautiful of smiles. Or maybe he just thought I was funny looking. Whatever the cause, I found myself smiling back at him.
The father hasn’t changed, he is still as controlling as he was last year. Yammering on and on non-stop about “you’re being stupid” and “don’t do that” and demeaning stuff like that. But the little one has changed. He’s grown. And there’s also an intangible change that I noticed. He seems more aware of people around him. As if he’s realized there’s a world beyond the controlling person who is his father.
I thought to myself that someday, that little boy is gonna grow up and be bigger than his dad… and someday, I predict that father will have a day of reckoning.
12 responses to “Story of a Little Boy.”
It is hard to be in the position that you were in; being a witness to such ill-parenting. Given your description the guy does sound like a control freak of some order. I grew up with one and I can tell you that the scars from those days never really go away. I heard lots of excuses as to why he was the way he was, but that need to control is, as you said, emotional abuse and there really isn’t a good excuse. Hopefully this guy will mellow enough to make life tolerable for the boy (I’m glad mine did).
Every time I’ve seen them up there, he’s very militant about trailing his kids. Attentive is good, but militant is bad. He gives them no space at all to actually be kids. The mom, if she’s there, just watches passively from the sidelines. I hope he mellows, too. My concern is that the child will adapt himself into a victim’s posture, which can stay with him his whole life.(sigh)
You have a heart for the child, J. I hope that his father would one day find a more caring and effective way to love his children, while guiding his children to be responsible and compassionate persons.
Yes, my heart hurt for that little boy. I wonder what it might take for the dad to see what he’s doing to that kid?
An outsider can see what the parents are blind to. One can pray for them and if the timing is right, it might be worth carefully saying something in the future. Even if you make an enemy, it might give them a cause to think about it later.
See my response to this on your comment below… ~Jammie J.
Been on the receiving end of this type of parenting too, not so physical mine more emotional, I serve my revenge cold now. I rarely call, I rarely visit and she is alone. I’m not the only one of her four kids who keeps their distance, in the end we figure it out, my sister finally got it about four years ago.
Now we two sisters are plotting how to bring us kids together so that we will at least have each other through the years to come.
Thank you for caring so much, for smiling, for realising that the boy was not the problem, those of us who have been that boy thank you for that smile. Trust me he knew, we always know.
That little boy, both of them, are beautiful kids. It was impossible not to smile back at him. 🙂 I’m so sorry that you were “him” growing up. It’s good that you have your siblings to unite with. Many people don’t.
That being said, it’s ironic to me that the goal of people who are like that dad are generally trying to keep those who are in their realm of influence under their control. To keep them close. By doing so, they are actually alienating themself.
Isn’t it true, the tighter you hold someone the more they struggle to be free?
I think my advice would not work. You can’t advise someone that’s not willing to listen. One can still pray though.
Prayer, yes. Never underestimate the power of that. Your point is valid, people won’t listen if they don’t want to hear.
But my concern wasn’t that the dad wouldn’t “hear,” it was because people, such as that man, always find a way to blame the victim for outsiders interfering. The dad would twist it and say to the child, “If you hadn’t been such a cry baby, you wouldn’t have drawn attention to yourself!” Or something like that. And then, the child would be more likely to “hide” themself. Plus, my intervention might have resulted in an escalation of the abuse, and/or cause it to be done in private, which is worse. Generally if abuse is done in public, it’s less injurious.
man. that’s just heartbreaking. it’s so hard to know what to do in that situation… i just hope that his little boy grows up to be a bigger and better person than his father and doesn’t end up shadowing him in any way.
i kinda feel bad for his wife, too… but at the same time, does she not see it? i understand what it is to be in an abusive relationship, but i think i’d be fiercely protective of my own child. i don’t know. i can’t judge since i’m not in their situation, though…
You know, the mom was even a weirder part of it. She seemed as if she was enjoying it… not in the “I’m so glad he’s hurting my kids” way, but in the “I’m the good guy and they’re coming to me to make it better” sort of way. She was sitting in her chair watching the whole exchange, smiling placidly. This after she’d told me that they’d received a complaint from the HOA because they’d been telling their boys to pee in the shrubs instead of the bathroom because they couldn’t unlock the bathroom door in time and kids don’t always tell you when they have to pee and wasn’t it better to pee in the shrubs than in the pool?
I mean, she had a point, but to tell me all of that? Is that not weird?
I was almost going to sympathise with the dad. I can give you examples from when my boys were that age where I would have reacted just like that due to much of the stress I was under on any given day. Funny that I just had a conversation with Maverick this morning on the subject of being in a bad mood and having every little thing make you more upset. Unfortunately he gets that from me. So, one day I can give a guy.
Eight months later and the same way? Nope, no sympathy. I still have my moments but I’ve been working really hard not to be that way. I certainly don’t control my kids like that. I give them the freedom to make mistakes, get banged up, and hopefully learn from it. But I’m there to point out consequences without saying “I told you so”. That’s what dads are supposed to do.
The handful of times I’d seen the dad and his boys before that Saturday, he was all over them. I remember him pulling them up to the pool gate in their red wagon. I thought that was so cool, red wagon memories flooding my mind, until I heard him admonishing them constantly to “stay in the wagon until were inside the gate and I test the water… geez, dude, don’t get out, how many times do I have to tell you?” I thought that was odd… but whatever, right?
Lord knows, I certainly understand having days where everything gets to me… it’s not as if anything has changed externally, people are who they are after all, but some days it just seems as if there’s a storm a-brewin’ inside. So I definitely get that. The thing that stood out about that day was him popping his kid right in the middle of the back… that floored me. It seemed to be such a juvenile mentality, but with an adult’s strength behind it.
So, yep, before then and eight months after, still the same. Still berating them…
i’m so glad we have a Heavenly Father who is ever patient with His children – always looking out for what is best for us … and loving those little ones who are hurt …
Yes, indeed. ‘Tis true. I wonder if those little ones know?
That man is MORE than controlling..He is an out and out abuser…! Emotionally and Physically. I hope that little boy survives the rest of his childhood with a father like that…And I think you are right. The day of reckoning will come, and it won’t be pretty.
Like Seamus said, I hope the dad mellows out… (sigh)
I hate seeing children being disciplined in public. It’s humiliating for the child and embarrassing for anyone who sees it.
That and it just show poor parenting. I mean, if the parents have no qualms about yelling and hitting their kids in public, can you just imagine what they think they can get away with in the privacy of their own home? Scary.
Not being a parent, I can only go off of how I was raised. Based on a child’s tendency to toe the line and test the boundaries, they’re apt to do so in public places just as well as anywhere else. So I guess I’m not against appropriate and timely discipline when necessary, regardless of whether it’s in a public place or in the privacy of the home. I was raised that discipline is a correction of behavior and, in a child’s situation, sometimes the ears don’t quite work when there’s so many distractions in this big, wide world to explore, and so the bottom is where the ears receive their reminder.
That being said, discipline is different than demeaning your child’s intelligence and/or popping a child in the middle of his back… that child had a very bad start of his day. I really hope that wasn’t a sample of what his life is like, you know?
This is where life gets sticky…. do you say something, do you leave it, do you report it to the authorities? You never know what to do. In this case your mom hit it spot on with her advice to Pray, we have a Father who can do more than just handle the ones here on earth, he can turn them around, open their eyes and make them see what they are doing.
Yep, I pray for the little guy. God can wrought change in the dad’s behavior better than anyone else. Especially me, as an outsider, who by saying something, could just make it worse for the little one.
yikes. something’s wrong with both of them!!!
Understatement of the year…