“William Adams regrets the interruption and inconvenience his daughter’s post has caused to the Aransas County, Texas community.”

I mostly blog for myself, given my whole two regular readers, so I don’t generally feel a need to rush to comment on public events. This whole mess has been making the rounds for the last week and a half or so, and while I’ve had a pretty good idea that I have something to say about it, I’ve not felt compelled to churn it out for immediate consumption. I will warn you ahead of time: yes, I normally keep the blog within the PG-13 range (or tamer). Given the subject matter, and some of what I have to say about it, you may well want to consider this a post that ventures into R territory in spots. You have been warned. I will also say I have been deliberately vague about a lot of things with respect to my own circumstances because I don’t want to accuse any specific person of any specific thing; please don’t ask me for details because I won’t give them to you.

I am reticent to identify as a victim of abuse. At the very least, I certainly can’t be said to have been physically abused. I acknowledge having received some overly negative treatment at the hands of certain parties while I was growing up, but it’s very difficult for me on several levels to call this treatment “abuse”. There are people who are rather eager to apply that label on my behalf, and I always refuse to stand for it when it comes up. My priest once made the comment, after my having discussed some of my personal history with him, that while he doesn’t know if I can really be said to have been abused, certainly what I went through was abusive. I don’t know what I think about that distinction, but suffice it to say that there was a lot of complicated stuff going on in various contexts throughout the course of my childhood, and shit tended to roll downhill, intentionally or not. Something I was told more than once was, usually tinged with regret, “This has nothing to do with you, Richard. Unfortunately, the dog bites the cat bites the rat.” Much of what happened tended to be emotional and/or intellectual in nature; let’s say that there was a rather strong center of authority that enjoyed a hegemony of hyper-rational mental aggression clothed in the language of concern and expressed as either relentless rage, mocking without mercy, or simply cold disinterest (that was really active, overbearing interest). The inevitable results of shame, guilt, self-hatred, and alienation would often be pointed out by third parties, and this would be received with all hostility, usually generating more of the same behavior. The party in question would never, ever, under any circumstances, admit the possibility they might be wrong; the behavior was always justified by the lack of an alternative if they were to be concerned with the result — “Am I just supposed to not care?” The only way that a mistake might be admitted to was if, in fact, this party had been talked into softening their stance. Then, and only then, would they admit error, and it was the error of not having stuck to their guns in the first place or, as it was put from time to time, that this party simply “wasn’t a big enough asshole about it”. In other words, the only error was in not adhering to the principle of their own infallibility. “I thought I made a mistake, but I was wrong.”

I’ll also say that, while I have had a lot of hard stuff to work through as a result of this behavior and its consequences for many people I care about (not just me), I have never liked the idea of this behavior being characterized as “abuse”, and it’s because I have always tried to assume the best of intentions for the party in question. Maybe they’re right, that in certain positions of authority the choices are pretty binary, that if you don’t have complete control you do not have the luxury to give a fuck, as the figure of authority it is in fact your job to be the asshole about it, and if anybody thinks less of you for it, fuck them and the horse they rode in on. So, as a Christian whose charge is to forgive seventy times seven, maybe it’s incumbent on me to assume that however I might have experienced this, that, or the other thing, this party had the best of intentions for me, and circumstances beyond everybody’s control (which did in fact exist, I must acknowledge) just didn’t allow for that to be expressed positively or pleasantly. Had the world not been going to hell for the circle of people my family moved in while I was growing up, interactions with this particular party could have been a lot different; it just wasn’t meant to be, and that’s my cross to bear.

I have, let me tell you, spent much of my adult life dealing (badly) with the severe cognitive dissonance of trying to keep that spin on things going. I still largely believe it. However, I find that, in my adult life, I have absolutely no patience for people whom I perceive as unabashedly intellectually (or spiritually) aggressive and having that as a modus operandi for backing people into corners and in general forcing people to smell their feces because they can’t stammer out a reasonable enough counterargument as to why they shouldn’t. This can manifest itself in a number of ways, overtly or not; there was the person who announced a few years ago that, if they were friends with you on Facebook, they reserved the right to ask you to take down content from your wall that they saw as “not glorifying the Lord”, and if they asked you three times and you didn’t do it, they would un-friend you (apparently following a biblical model). The reason given was that Facebook friendship implied an endorsement on their part of anything you posted publicly, and so anything they judged as “not glorifying the Lord” not taken down while they were friends with you left them complicit with your sin. I just stopped talking to this person altogether for presuming that they were qualified to judge the contents of the world’s Facebook walls; they didn’t last long on Facebook to begin with, I haven’t spoken to this person in about six years, and have no plans to change that. I don’t like confrontations — I don’t even really like looking people in the eye most of the time. Yes, as a commenter took me to task on somewhat recently, I’ve got a somewhat paradoxical and hypocritical thing about humility in how people express themselves. Being intellectually, emotionally, or spiritually pushed around is something I’m going to try to pre-empt in how I express things, and it will make me very cross when people ignore the pre-emption attempt and go heavy-handed anyway. There is a certain kind of person who immediately zeroes in on what they perceive as weakness in somebody else and does everything they can to attack it; I do not have pleasant relationships with such people, as a rule. (Such people can pop up under very inconvenient circumstances, too, such as being my boss or being somebody whose house I have to live at for an extended period of time. Nightmares, all of them.)

So then there’s this video of a judge and his daughter, and his three page response to the resulting publicity (you can get to it from the article I linked to). This line is a real gem: “William Adams regrets the interruption and inconvenience his daughter’s post has caused to the Aransas County, Texas community.” In other words — nope, no way did I make a mistake in beating a girl with a belt for seven minutes straight (or in that being a regular occurrence), although I apparently didn’t hit her hard or frequently enough for her to learn something by it. Well, after my own personal experiences, that one line tells me everything I need to know about this man, and it makes me mourn for him and his family. I mourn for him because the way he has been shaped means that any self-reflection or admission of error must, can only, be an attack on his authority. I either am allowed to care to the point of this extreme of an action, or I don’t have the luxury to be interested.

But surely someone who has had to rely as much on their own knowledge, education, judgment, and self-confidence as a judge does can be permitted the benefit of the doubt? Their discernment is law, quite literally, and that must as a courtesy be extended to the walls of their home and not just their legal chambers, right? Whew. Maybe not.

I can’t really comment on the daughter or the mother too much without having to get more specific than I want to be about my own circumstances, but I will say this — my assumption is that the daughter knew exactly what would happen, it’s exactly what she wanted, and she was waiting for the time at which her very carefully-crafted weapon (because that’s exactly what the video is and what it was always meant to be) would have the most impact. I don’t have a clue what her motives are (although I find the judge’s presumption about her motives to be a crass and desperate attempt to move focus away from his own actions), but I assume that there’s nothing from him in particular that she wants, because she must know now that she will never get it. There is something bigger than the beatings going on; as an adult, she could have just walked away from any relationship with him, but this is irrevocable, and she knows it. If I wanted to make sure that I never had anything ever to do with the particular party I reference above, I would give names and dates and places and specifics and quotes, lots and lots of quotes. But I don’t. I do not presently have an active relationship with this particular party, but I maintain the hope one might eventually be re-established. If I really didn’t give a rat’s ass about it, I’d have no problem dragging them publicly and particularly through the mud. So I assume some similar calculus must have gone through this young woman’s head. I can’t really say that I blame her. As to the mother… well, parents have complex reasons for either putting up a fight or hanging back that I can’t yet begin to understand. Alliances in families where abuse is a reality strike me as fluid things, dependent on circumstances and positioned to maximize survival rather than comfort. Maybe it’s a Nurembergian “just following orders” scenario, but I really doubt it.

Pray for the strong that they always know the limits of their strength. Pray for the weak that they may be constantly shown mercy and deference by the strong. Pray for the wounded that they may be healed. Pray for those inflicting wounds that they may be reconciled to those they’ve injured. Pray that those who err can admit their mistake in a truly healing and non self-serving way. Pray for us all that we may see another way besides action and reaction, injury and retribution, hurt and revenge.


5 Responses to ““William Adams regrets the interruption and inconvenience his daughter’s post has caused to the Aransas County, Texas community.””

  1. 1 Jennifer Lopushok 9 November 2011 at 1:36 am

    I had no idea about any of this from your past, and I am truly sorry for your pain. Looking at my own life, I know I have inflicted damage on people at times–nearly always unintentionally, but still–and have received damage from others, so I really appreciate the honesty and overall tone of forgiveness in your prayer. It is a courageous thing to speak out as openly as you have done here, and I pray with you that we will all heal from our hurts, and help heal any hurts we’ve inflicted on anyone else.

  2. 2 Daniel Storrs (@danielinbtown) 9 November 2011 at 9:06 am

    Coming from a world where “spare the rod, spoil the child” was a divine commandment direct from God’s mouth to be followed no matter the cost I know find myself against corporal punishment with children. Looking back at those moments: where I watched my mother take a switch to my siblings, I do not think of discipline or love but just horror…to the point my blood pressure rises and I get very uncomfortable. That being said I know she felt she was doing her best and what was required of her but thankfully I do not have to continue in that mode. Actually, I sat with my partner this morning and we were discussing this very topic and how thankfully he and I are on the same page with this when it comes to raising our lil guy…we have been blessed with. Thankfully, his mother too, agrees and find it a freeing experience to no longer feel one must beat to be right in God’s eyes…she too was raised in this method of thought. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, this news/video plus the recent special CNN ran on a horrid book written by a fundamentalist couple even encouraging making children go hungry…has been really present on my mind. It was therapeutic to read your words.

    • 3 Richard Barrett 9 November 2011 at 1:03 pm

      I can’t say that I quite know where to draw the line between necessary discipline and abuse. My parents were generally very moderate with how spankings etc. were applied, and I can only recall one instance where there was a plastic spoon employed. My overall instinct is to say that probably there are times when some amount of some form of corporal punishment is appropriate, but when it becomes an expression of anger and frustration on the part of the parent rather than an instrument of discipline, or when it is used in a desperate attempt to establish control and authority, it becomes something else. I’d be curious to hear what others might think.

  3. 4 Daniel Storrs (@danielinbtown) 10 November 2011 at 8:38 am

    For me I rarely saw corporal punishment used apart from spur of the moment anger at situations and behaviors and as a control tactic – not always but mostly. It seems some studies show that some moderate spanking does not cause adverse effects but my experience has been that many parents do not have the ability to draw the line. I will be brutally honest that I feel the few times I have spanked my son I was over the line and saw far too much of my parents in me, hence I (and my partner and son’s mother) have come to the conclusion to no longer employ spankings on any level in our family. Also, I think it depends on the child, my lil guy is extremely self conscience and embarrasses easily which then turns to inward chaos for him and even more emotions and behaviors he can not control…when I have went down the road of spanking it did not result in victory or the lil guy settling down but usually the situation only became much worse in a new direction. So for our family, corporal punishment is out. If my son had a different personality, perhaps I would feel differently; or if my childhood experiences were different I might be more open to the idea of spanking having its benefits.

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