Slap-bang in the middle of the month that hosts the 16 Days of Activism against Women and Child Abuse, and boy, oh, boy, have I just got a mother of a story to tell you.
I am nearly 40 years old. I am white, male and South African. I have lived in this country most of my life. I am not a criminal. I am also certainly not a violent person. However, over the past two weeks I have been involved in two brawls: one in a bar and one in a park.
Both of my opponents were white males: one a teenager and one in his 20s; both childhood products of the past decade or so, in which parents and teachers have been legally urged to treat children “rightfully”.
Look, I’m not just moaning here. I came off best in both instances, and that did a hell of a lot of good for my mid-life crises. Both episodes, though, left me with one question that I’m begging to have answered.
Of course, the first person that I asked questions of was myself. In the army they always used to teach: when you’re having difficulty communicating (via the bush radio), check your own receiver first before you blame the other guy with whom you are trying to communicate. (I just couldn’t help sticking in an army story somewhere here: there’s something about writing this that’s like standing around a braai.)
Being not as socially confident as I used to be in the old days, I seriously attempted to disabuse myself of any ideas or beliefs that I may have that seriously needed redressing. Rather, though, I finally decided that I was not wrong, and that I would stand up for myself, even if it was against youths who have more rights than myself. I am, after all, red-blooded and entitled to a little bit of passion. I have an ID book and fingerprints, and I’m also entitled to at least some human rights.
In the first instance, the teenager in my company was seriously misbehaving, constantly using one of my least favourite four-letter words, which starts with an “S”, continues painfully with an “L”, extends itself with a “U” and then summits with a “T”. The word was also used far too frequently and always completely out of context, without class, reference or intent to actually say anything except that the speaker was the king of the castle; a title which I politically regressed to deny him.
OK, I challenged the child to a brawl. I thought that that would at least give him more of a fair start than if I just gave him a straight-forward hiding.
However, knowing also that legally it would probably not be such a good idea to beat up a teenager even if he were already 17 (under our present superior legal system), I never threw the first punch. In fact, when it came down to the stance in the grass, I never threw a punch at all. I just let him go as wild as he thought he could, and then I stood back and laughed at him. His further reaction: he turned and ran away. It further turned out that he never even bruised me.
I was however, hurt emotionally. I have I believe reached an age where I feel that this younger generation should show the older generation just a little bit of respect, and only because they’re older. I was brought up like that: to treat your elders with respect, no matter what. To treat somebody with disrespect is to pass judgement, and you have no idea what cards life has dealt them. How could you? Due to my upbringing I would never treat anyone or anything like that. Even when I pick a flower, I make sure that I do it gently (with the use of a pocket knife or a pair of scissors).
And by the way, this delinquent youth, who is still walking the streets with more buttons to press than a haberdashery, is not a previously disadvantaged child who probably suffered a lack of parentage or moral mentorship due to his social and financial hard realities. No, he is a kid from a well-heeled northern-suburbs Jewish family — from a people who enjoy referring to themselves as “a light unto the nations” … OK, please, before I get a pile of messages in my email box accusing me of being anti-Semitic, the point that I’m making is that this happens to all of us. Yes, you Semitics (the Jews and the Arabs) are part of the all of us. Welcome! (Sorry, but it still feels as though I’m standing around a braai.)
You know, I’ve heard many references to the time of my childhood (the 1970s and 1980s), insinuating that it was a violent time for children. It’s true that we used to get the crap caned out of us at school, and that at home we used to get hidings with belts, and that we used to get our ears twisted and pulled until they were burning red. But the funny thing was that we respected our elders! I still respect my elders. And I honestly do not believe that I ever perceived that kind of “disciplinary action” as “violent”.
It is a fact that one of the worst things that you can do to children is to spoil them; surely it is in itself tantamount to abuse. And children surely can be spoilt in as many ways as they can be abused, on both the left and the right sides of the “law”.
OK, the situation regarding the twentysomething-year-old in the bar was somewhat different. I have secret knowledge of how he treats his mother: it’s a long and miserable tale involving extortion, smashing household items, manipulation, needless temper throwing and the waving about of bread knives when he does not get his way. Just the very fact that I possess this knowledge is understandably enough to tick him off whenever I’m in his presence. But as far as I’m concerned, that’s his problem.
Anyhow: there was an exchange of words; my words were cleverer than his; he lost his little temper; his “friend” grabbed hold of my shirt; together we went down on the floor and did a bit of rolling about; and the bouncers removed them both. I was allowed to stay and sip my lager. The bar owner understands, and he asks the same question as I do: “So what’s a man supposed to do in the face of a child who is just plain disgusting?”
I’ve heard many of the stories ranging from “Eric and Catherine at Jokela” to King Edward … but that’s all far too intelligent and psycho-something for me right now; I’ve got a day job, and anyway, that’s not what this letter is about. It’s about having respect for your elders, because they’re your elders!
Again, what’s a man supposed to do in the face of a child who is just plain disgusting? Help him out with a klap, or allow him to grow into a bigger, more dangerous animal?
Thanks for your time; I’ll be around the braai.