“He came from a simpler time, an easier time.…”

This student was writing about a man who killed his son in order to “save” him from a life of drug addiction, although at the time, according to the man himself, his son was not an addict, but just a user of marijuana and “cheap wine.”

The judge sentenced the man to five years’ probation, which is what I ask students to write about—lately I ask them to defend the sentence, a task that produces some pretty interesting answers (and some pretty funny ones, although that’s not my intention).

The author of this sentence was defending the judge by defending the father’s act. Here’s her reasoning:

“He came from a simpler time, an easier time. In his day sons respected their fathers, and if they didn’t they were to be lashed. There were no liberal laws preventing a father from disciplining their child.”

I’m choosing to ignore the “their” this morning, because it’s really small potatoes here even to those of us who can’t stand seeing “their” used with a singular antecedent.

“Liberal laws” is ambiguous. It would seem that she considers laws that prevent somehow “liberal”—”marked by generosity, open-handed”? A generous law prevents? Well, certainly preventing discipline could be considered generous to the undisciplined, unless the law permitted open-handed hitting…. I think she was actually using “liberal” to refer to that vile political party that wants to destroy our freedoms (we’re told) by letting all the evils in the world have their way (we’re told).

Well, in either case, let’s see what those “liberal laws preventing a father from disciplining their child” have put an end to: lashing. Wow. Those sure were simpler, easier times, when a father could keep the kids in line by the simple, easy application of the cat-o’-nine-tails to their little backs…ALWAYS the way to instill respect. Look what it did for slave-drivers—and the British Navy—and the pyramids-construction project.

What could she have been thinking? What did her mind’s eye see? Me, at the first sight of that whip I’d call for some liberal legislators to pass a law to stop it.

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

7 responses to ““He came from a simpler time, an easier time.…”

  • Mary Jane Schaefer

    Never mind this girl’s political bias. Her brain is asleep. She’s simply repeating, in a particularly inept fashion, a cliche that’s she’s heard at home. Wait a minute. Maybe that IS political bias.

  • Delft

    Woah, there! I think this is a bit harsh.

    In one of the schools I went to, the older boys were lashed for being disrespectful – as the OED has it, to lash means to “strike or beat with a whip or stick”, cat-o’-nine tails not required. The writer is not arguing that lashing instills respect, just that sons who didn’t respect their fathers were (to be ?) lashed.

    The OED has liberal as “favourable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms”, so laws protecting the right of children not to be beaten can – correctly – be called liberal.

    What is funny, I grant you, is the idea that laws prevent something. We might as well say we have no laws preventing murder, as murder seems to be still with us. But even this is a spillover from the colloquial “there’s nothing to stop you from…”

    I wouldn’t concur with the reasoning, the ideas are a bit trite, and I grant you they’re badly expressed, but maybe not quite as badly as all that.

  • RAB

    Interesting, Delft, except that in the U.S. we almost never use the term “lash,” and our schools haven’t permitted beating with sticks or anything else, for disrespect or anything else, for a long time. Rarely does one hear the verb “lash” except in the context of slave-drivers or British naval captains. The lash here is a whip.

    I agree that child-protection laws are intended to respect their individual rights, but the political parlance general labels laws as “liberal” that restrict authority figures from punishing perceived culprits, and in this sense the student is deploying political jargon, not making thoughtful analysis.

    The person who “came from a simpler time” was born in the midwestern U.S. in the early 1940s. If his father beat him with a stick, it would have been called beating him, or “giving him a beatin,'” or even “whuppin’ him,” not “lashing.”

    My student’s sentence is funny because her terminology isn’t appropriate for the culture and instead calls up extreme images that certainly don’t square with “a simpler time, an easier time.”

  • “…the one thing Texas loves more than football…” « You Knew What I Meant

    […] more on that son-killing case. It happened in Texas. The judge handed down a sentence of five years’ probation to the […]

  • “He shot his son out of frustration…” « You Knew What I Meant

    […] is the killer father again. I don’t know if the topic spawned so many strange sentences because my students just […]

  • bashothegreat

    I understood exactly what she said.

  • “What if the motif behind the murder was bettering off the victim?” « You Knew What I Meant

    […] student is considering the “punishment” handed down to the killer-father, and trying to figure out what the judge might have been […]

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