Adults admonished me repeatedly since early childhood that hitting others is always wrong. One example was when Mom scolded me one July afternoon for becoming enraged at my brother, Roy, and scratching long bloody streaks down his back with my fingernails. I felt guilty and shocked at the sight of what I had done and vowed never to do that again.
Imagine my consternation on another summer morning when my family visited my uncle Bob, who lived just down the sidewalk from us, and somebody brought out an inflatable punching clown toy. It was the sort that had sand in its rounded bottom so that it would always return to an upright position after being hit.
“Go ahead, punch him. Hit him as hard as you can,” Dad repeated as I hesitated in front of it. The very thought horrified me. I didn’t want to punch that nice clown who never hurt me, even if he wasn’t real.
The other adults burst out laughing and insisted it was all right to hit the clown since it was only a toy. Suddenly I felt terrified. Everybody seemed to be hungrily ganging up on me.
Finally my fear of them overcame my dread of hitting another person and in frustration I socked the clown balloon. I felt absolutely miserable. “Hit him again,” people kept encouraging. A queasy feeling welled up inside me as I hit the clown toy a few more times to make them happy. It seemed fundamentally immoral to do that but everybody urged me on.
I had another crisis of conscience when Dad took the initiative to teach me how to fight one sunny summer afternoon. “Go ahead and punch me. Put up your dukes and hit me as hard as you can,” he urged.
Again I felt horrified. Weren’t we supposed to love our parents and do unto others what we wanted done to us? That ghastly feeling of doing something terribly wrong swept over me but I gave in and made a few half-hearted swats with my tiny fists.
Fortunately for me, Mom came into the master bedroom, where this madness was occurring, and put a stop to it. “He has to learn how to fight so he won’t get beat up,” Dad argued. Mom would have none of that and I was spared any further fighting lessons.
I wish Dad had fought harder on my behalf during another summer afternoon. A government agent came to convince my parents that they should send me to a distant institution called Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind. I wrote about the consequences, both good and bad, of their fateful decision in Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School). Information about this memoir of residential school life, and how I survived it, is available by clicking here.