To me, the whole "My parents did (insert anything from the banal to the psychotic here) and I turned out fine" rationale doesn't hold a lot of water. That's particularly true in the case of NFL running back Adrian Peterson, accused of beating his son with a tree branch, and the people coming out to support him with the "My parents beat me with a tree branch and I turned out just fine" spiel.
In the past week, Peterson was charged by authorities, suspended by his team, and attacked and supported equally fiercely by the public and the media. Then, on Monday, he was reinstated by the Minnesota Vikings.
My parents smoked so much with us kids in the car that onlookers who saw us spill out of the endless string of Chevrolet Caprice Classics likely believed we were a mobile ham-curing operation. They let me drink in front of them from age 13. And they encouraged me to be my own person and stand up for what I believe in, traits that have caused me more trouble than I can remember and cost me more money than I can count, mostly when I was standing up for a football team I believed in with a wager.
Don't get me wrong: I loved my parents immensely and respected them . . . some. But the fact that they did stuff a certain way is not justification for me to do the same.
And besides, who says we "turned out fine"? We don't get to self-verify adequacy. There should be a vote by peers, the community or cellmates before we're certified "just fine."
So Peterson, who said hitting his son with a branch is punishment consistent with his own childhood, was booked into jail in Montgomery County, Texas, on Saturday and released on bond. He is charged with injury to a child, which could result in a penalty ranging from probation to up to 2 years in jail.
Thus the avalanche of "My parents used to make me cut my own switch to whoop me and I turned out just fine."
What's most notable about that rush of support for Peterson is that people are so invested in clamoring for and defending the world they grew up in that they're not paying attention to the actual story.
The son Peterson beat with a switch, or a branch, is 4. According to media reports, the boy was being punished for pushing another one of Peterson's kids, which in many cases would be grounds for discipline. But not this kind of discipline.
I don't believe 4-year-olds learn good and lasting lessons by being beaten until they are cut and bruised on their backs, buttocks, ankles and legs, as this child was. And his age is the central issue people are ignoring in their odd rush to wax nostalgic about their parents beating them.
In Texas, according to the district attorney's office handling the case, parents can discipline their children as they see fit, except when that discipline exceeds what the community would say is reasonable.
I don't hit my kid for the same reason I don't hit my wife: It's not an appropriate way to teach lessons, or make people do what I want. My parents never hit us, either, beyond the swat on the butt you give a really little one who's trying to run into the road.
If a boy is 14 and gets caught stealing the family car or vandalizing houses, a case for the parental right to discipline him with a switch could be made. I don't believe that's true when it's a 4-year-old who was playing too roughly.
And I can't help but be amazed by the circularity of Peterson's behavior. You can't teach a child not to be rough with another person by beating him with a piece of wood until he is bruised and cut. That teaches him that he needs to get bigger, and more practiced in his violence, to be allowed to beat others with impunity.
Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.