How Did We Ever Survive all That Discipline?!

by Harry T. Roman


“OOOHHHH, you are in big trouble. You are going to get it now!”

“You just wait ‘till your father gets home!”

“Well, mister, you have done it now. You bring this note home to your parents and tell them I want to see them here in school!”

C’mon you remember these situations don’t you; and you know what it meant…..usually a couple of whacks or some discipline applied to that part of your anatomy where the sun don’t regularly shine.

“That’s why God put that padding back there, so bad little people like you could get straightened out before it’s too late.”

Bringing home a note from the teacher! That was next to committing murder as far as my parents were concerned. Teachers and parents in my old Newark schools were much closer back then. The PTA meant something; and education for many immigrant families meant everything. Kids having trouble in school was a very serious concern. It was dealt with quickly and firmly, the way it should be.

Having to go to school with your parents, I still shudder to think of that horrible humiliation. It happened twice with me and I still get twinges in my bottom, and that was over 45 years ago. Some things stay with you…..and they are supposed to!


With today's political correctness and a major de-emphasis on a good ol' smack in the butt for a misbehaving child, I shudder to think what today's kids are missing. It really did hurt our parents as much as it hurt us, but they cared enough to risk that personal pain to teach us a valuable lesson.

I think it made all the difference in us. Of course your modern pop psychologists and children's rights groups would be quick to make a big stink about it. But ain't it funny how most of those folks never seem to have children; and they are experts in raising them?

Probably everyone reading these words remembers getting a well-deserved smack, or side of the foot, if not by your parents then maybe by a teacher. Remember messing around with your gym teacher, or coach? Where did that land you?

Ever sit in the corner, or wear a dunce cap for fooling around? God forbid you do that today. You could end up in jail. All this when kids are more violent than ever. I don't remember drive by shootings, or wildings, or some of the other stuff I read about today in the newspapers. (About the worst thing I remember being dispensed in my direction from a passing car back in the 50s was a “moon”; and I might enjoy having that happen again today!!)

While our generation certainly did get whacked and physically punished when warranted, it did not seem to produce an inordinate number of ax murderers. Now why do you suppose that is so?

I think the problem lies at the heart of the family. Our generation had a more nuclear family. Kids did not have to join gangs to make up a family, or run in packs to make up for what they did not have at home. Dad and Mom were there and they were unified in their outlook.

And your extended family, neighbors, and teachers were in on the growing process. You were cared about. Today, everyone moves around every 7 years or so. Who can you get to know and grow with?

Newark was a big tight community back then—not that everyone knew everyone else because that was impossible. The city had a large population, probably at least double what it is today. What it had was a unity of spirit, and that is what transcended all the ethnic differences. That spirit was embodied in the family unit; and its recognition of the importance of good behavior, especially in school. This, I believe, was common throughout the city.

Remember the threat of “reform school”. I’ll bet that phrase still sends chills up your spine if you grew up in the 30s, 40s, 50s, and even 60s. Do they even have such a thing today?


In our family, Dad was the disciplinarian, but Mom had her own brand of getting to you if the need arose. Dad had a short fuse, but Mom smoldered, and when the lady reached ignition temperature she didn’t hit you, she threw something. Since Mom was almost always in the kitchen, that meant you were going to get hit most likely with some article of food.

She got me good one day. When I saw her ignite over some hot button I had finally pressed, I started running for the upstairs bedrooms. She was making tomato gravy from scratch with big fresh juicy tomatoes, squashing them in the old cone-shaped strainer. She reached for a tomato about the size of a baseball, whirled and let go with a pitch I have never been able to duplicate—a combination curve-ball, screw-ball, knuckle-ball and slider.

That tomato followed me through the dining room, living room, made two right turns and kept on coming up the stairs. In terror I thumped up the stairs looking over my shoulder at the gaining red spheroid. I was doomed and I knew it. If I could only make the bedroom door! No such luck. I turned to close the door and that incredible pitch delivered the goods. “Kerpslat!!!” a tomato sandwich right in the kisser.

“You clean up that mess!” I heard her yell from downstairs.

“And wait ’till your father gets home!”

What humiliation, beaten up by a 4’ 10’’ mother and now I have to deal with a 200 pound mechanic with hands the size of a baseball catcher’s mitt and hard as the steel he works with all day long. Why can’t I keep my big yap shut?

I had to live with the real inventor of the smart bomb. Anything she threw at me, found me. I could hide for days and that cruise missile would still be waiting for me when I emerged from my lair. Imagine the fame I could have achieved on the ball fields if I but mastered that pitch. No such luck. Mom did not divulge the intricacies of her secret pitch to me.

Now I wish my Mom was here to throw a whole truckload of ripe tomatoes at me and I could feel the sting of my Dad’s huge hands on my backside. I do know the hurt they felt when they spanked or disciplined me.


When my daughter and I did the father and daughter dance at her wedding, she whispered how much she loved me for being tough on her-occasional whacks and all. I cried like a baby out there in her arms. Yes, I still feel guilty about the times I had to teach her important lessons; but when I see her a responsible citizen and a hard working person, I know I did right. And I would do it all over again, without hesitation.

We survived that discipline because we knew we were loved. Someone cared enough to apply and enforce proper standards of behavior. I am eternally grateful for it all.

Kids need to know their limits and our parents were not afraid to show us. I understand that things can sometimes get out of hand with a few people terribly hurting their children and losing control. This deeply saddens me too. But I look out at the many young lives shattered by drugs and crime and I am appalled. I wonder what a good measure of discipline applied at the right moment from a caring but firm adult might have prevented in that kid’s life.

Thanks Mom and Dad.


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