Brown Boy Problems: Parental Backhand (S1 EP11)
We've reached the final episode of Season 1 of "Brown Boy Problems." Let's go out with a bang.
I'd really appreciate it if you took the time to take an oh-so-brief survey about your thoughts on "Brown Boy Problems" that will help me figure out how to best serve you in the future.
Admittedly this episode is a little disjointed as it doesn't focus on a single story. To get the most of this week's episode, I'd advise you to read Episode 10 first if you haven't yet.
Without further ado ...
My mother, sister, and I were in Houston for the wedding of our close family friend, Nyle. Nyle and his siblings were those family friends you spent so much time with when you were little you wonder if you were related to them.
Houston was also the place where one of our actual blood cousins lived. My mother and sister were making plans to see her. I was sort of confused as to why they were trying to surreptitiously meet her in some park. It turned out that her husband had hit her a few times and now Mama was beefing with the husband.
My sister made some sort of comment along the lines of, “Yeah if he touches her again, I’m going to do something about it.”
I was with my mom and sister on the general sentiment. I had met the guy a few years back and thought, "Damn, this guy is lame." And now I certainly was on the train of thought that he was scum upon hearing some of the domestic issues.
At the same time though, I found the conversation to be bewildering. Here’s my mom and sister saying it’s reprehensible for our cousin to be hit a couple of times by her husband, and yet I was at fault for not coming to see the guy who beat the shit out of me countless times on his death bed.
For some reason Papa’s physical abuse can be chalked up as the cost of doing business—it’s not great he did it, but hey you know what, something we can live with. How can that possibly be the case?
Recently I was hanging out with three high school buddies in New Jersey. I had come to find out that there were not one, but two microbreweries located in a town 15 minutes from where we grew up. I insisted that we hit them up back-to-back prior to me leaving for an extended period of travel. (If you live in Northern New Jersey, Hackensack has two pretty solid spots in Hackensack Brewing and Alementary Brewing Co.)
They’re all about to enter or have entered the phase where procreation is on the docket. There was some talk of children and I threw out the question of whether they see themselves hitting their kids. Two of them were also kids of immigrants so I was relatively sure some form of a parental backhand was in their past.
I was surprised to hear that each of them was completely fine with hitting their future progeny. It’s not something that they looked forward to, but it wasn’t something they would shy away from.
I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to run last week’s piece, but that conversation (at a brewery in Hackensack, of all places) made me think, “Eh, maybe I need to inject a slightly different perspective to the many friends I have who are just about to have kids or already have newborns.”
Now I completely understand that there are levels to hitting your kids. On the spectrum, Papa was much worse than say the parent who gives a quick smack on the head to their child.
I would, however, argue that it’s a slippery slope: when you hit your kid one time for an infraction, what’s to stop you from hitting your kid two times a week later for the same infraction? And why more often than not are these “infractions” for children not living up to an unreasonable adult standard.
They’re kids for a reason. They’re absorbing. They’re learning. They’re making mistakes. Come to think of it, you’ve probably made worse mistakes as an adult. So should you be hit for that?
One of Papa’s favorite stories was of this guy he knew that was also a Pakistani immigrant. After beating his kid on one of the numerous occasions, his kid calls the cops. I can’t remember exactly what, but basically the dad had some sort of punishment that he had to deal with.
Once the father finished his punishment he went with his kid to Pakistan. Once they got out of the aiport, the father beat the shit out of his kid. He then left the kid with relatives in Pakistan and headed back to America.
To Papa that dad was a hero. A man that really figured out a way to finesse the system. I suppose he also shared the story as an example of what might happen to us if we were to call the authorities.
The weird thing is, when he told this story it didn't even seem all that bad at the time—that's just how normalized getting hit was for us (and unfortunately in many immigrant households).
Now that I've had enough space from that time in my life, I'm resolutely on the side of that's something that's worthy of condemnation. The same way you'd condemn a person if he beat his wife, is the same way you should condemn him (or her, or they) for beating a kid.
From my perspective, you’re talking about one human being beaten by another human being. You could argue in the case of a child, a human being that has much fewer options as well to stop the abuse.
Pick a side. They’re either both reprehensible, or they’re both mildly unfortunate, or heck, they're both fine.
And in the event you think they're both fine, or mildly unfortunate, I might need to smack some sense into ya.
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Next week on From Mustafa’s Desk is the start of a yet-to-be-named limited series about the ~45 days I just spent living in Mexico.
This essay was edited by Mustafa Shaikh. Blame all grammatical errors on him.
You can catch up on past writings here.