Saturday, January 9, 2010

Sin and Disappointment

Orig: 01/10/09

I remember my brother Eddie’s many sins. But Eddie had an excuse: he was born with a mental defect. Truly it can be said that he just didn’t know. But I know how he tried to be good, even good beyond his understanding. Even with his retardation, he knew being good was a good thing. And so he tried, as hard as he could.

The one incident I remember most often about Eddie was when he was about 7 years old. His retardation was obvious, but my mom and dad didn’t want to accept it. “He’s just slow; he’ll catch up.” Eddie went to elementary school with his best (and perhaps only) friend, Nancy, the little girl next door. They had played together in the yard from when they could walk. School brought many trials for Eddie and his mom, and, in truth, the nice nuns passed Eddie from first grade to the second out of kindness or pity. Mom worked endless hours with him on his schoolwork. But one day reality was forced upon everyone. My brother Eddie did a “number two” in his pants that morning in school, a real smelly mess. With all the young kids laughing and pointing, the young nun had to do something. She took Eddie to the principal’s office, who called my mother at home.

Mom came to the school, and immediately was aware, as everyone else was, of the problem. She promised the principal that she would take Eddie home, clean him up, and have him back for his afternoon classes. The dear, kind nun looked my mom in the eye: “No, Mrs. S., I’m afraid Eddie cannot come back. Eddie is a good boy; he obeys in class; it’s not that he is not trying. But it’s obvious that he cannot keep up with the other children, and that he is a disruption in class – as was readily seen this morning. Another place must be found for him. I’m afraid I must insist that he cannot be brought back to this school.”

To say that my mother was devastated would be an understatement. She cleaned Eddie up, put him to bed, and cried much of that afternoon.

Looking back on the incident, I understand my mom and dad’s actions. It’s hard to admit that your children aren’t what you expected them to be. You put so much effort into creating them be good, important, and happy people that when they fail, you feel you failed too. It’s hard to admit, sometimes, that in fact they WILL fail, and they WILL disappoint you – no person is created perfect and no person acts perfect. And even if they were created perfect, they can choose not to be in the future. And they can disappoint you. I sometimes wonder what God feels about us. I know he created us just as he wanted us to be – but then we go out and, well, become much less than perfect. We become much less than what he gave us the talents and abilities to be.

I wonder if we disappoint him.

My dad came home from work that afternoon, and my mother told him what had happened. Dad called Eddie down from his room, and raged at him: “Why couldn’t you behave? Now you can’t go back to that school anymore! What are we going to do?!” And dad took off his belt and began spanking Eddie. My sister and I were in our rooms, but throughout the house we could hear my brother’s cries: “Please! Please! I’ll be good; I promise! I want to go to school with Nancy; I’ll be good. I promise! Please!”

“Don’t make me stay home; I want to go to school. Please!”


I’m sure both my mom and dad were crying as dad spanked Eddie. I know my sister and I were. When we remembered that day many years later, we still did. I still do now.

Mom and dad eventually found a “special” school for Eddie, and later in his life he worked in various “special” jobs, provided for by the state. Eddie came to realize that he was “special”, and that relative to his understanding of some things, well, “I’m just slow”. He led a relatively happy life with mom and dad until he died one night about 40 years later.

Eddie never forgot the night when he found out he wasn’t like the other kids, and he couldn’t go to school with Nancy anymore. And, in his own words, he “disappointed mom and dad”. Later, from “borrowing” some cookies from Uncle Joe’s store, to taking a pie cooling on a neighbor’s window sill, to feeding the neighbor’s cows some candy, he often told me tales of disappointing mom and dad. But he always said he was sorry. And he really and truly was.

I think Eddie, despite his “slowness” understood the concept of sin better than most of us. He knew there were temptations he should not give in to; he knew giving in felt good at the time, he knew there were consequences; and perhaps most importantly, he knew that it disappointed mom and dad. Sometimes when he talked to me about his failures and he told me how much mom and dad were disappointed, he cried. The greatest problem with his sin was that he disappointed mom and dad.

I was told that Eddie never progressed beyond the mental age of a nine-year old. Sometimes, when I pray to God for Wisdom, I pray to be as wise as my brother Eddie was. And I pray, with that Wisdom, I might not disappoint my heavenly Father.

Eddie taught me that prayer. I pray to him often.


  1. People used to think it was necessary to "spank" adult member of the community, military trainees, and prisoners. In some countries they still do. In our country it is considered sexual assault if a person over the age of 18 is "spanked", but only if over the age of 18.

    For one thing, buttock-battering can vibrate the pudendal nerve, which can lead to sexual arousal in some people. There are numerous other ways in which it can be sexually abusive, but I won't list them all here. On can use the resources I've posted if they want to learn more.

    Child bottom-battering/slapping vs. DISCIPLINE:

    Child bottom-battering (euphemistically labeled "spanking", "swatting", "switching", "smacking", "paddling", or other cute-sounding names) for the purpose of gaining compliance is nothing more than an inherited bad habit.

    Its a good idea for people to take a look at what they are doing, and learn how to DISCIPLINE instead of hit.

    I think the reason why television shows like "Supernanny" and "Dr. Phil" are so popular is because that is precisely what many (not all) people are trying to do.

    There are several reasons why child bottom-slappping isn't a good idea. Here are some good, quick reads recommended by professionals:

    Plain Talk About Spanking
    by Jordan Riak,

    The Sexual Dangers of Spanking Children
    by Tom Johnson,

    by Lesli Taylor M.D. and Adah Maurer Ph.D.

    Most compelling of all reasons to abandon this worst of all bad habits is the fact that buttock-battering can be unintentional sexual abuse for some children. There is an abundance of educational resources, testimony, documentation, etc available on the subject that can easily be found by doing a little research with the recommended reads- visit the website of Parents and Teachers Against Violence In Education at

    Just a handful of those helping to raise awareness of why child bottom-slapping isn't a good idea:

    American Academy of Pediatrics,
    American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry,
    American Psychological Association,
    Center For Effective Discipline,
    Churches' Network For Non-Violence,
    Nobel Peace Prize recipient Archbishop Desmond Tutu,
    Parenting In Jesus' Footsteps,
    Global Initiative To End All Corporal Punishment of Children,
    United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

    In 26 countries, child corporal punishment is prohibited by law (with more in process). In fact, the US was the only UN member that did not ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

  2. Thank you for the information. To put things in context, it should be noted that the event I wrote on occurred about 50 years ago. Although spanking was not common in my family then, it was in America. My father then (wrongly) acted out of frustration. Although I don't think spanking is a good thing, I do miss the feeling of shame which it conveyed to the receiver. Shame is a feeling much missed in America today.

  3. I find it terrible to spank a boy with mental illness. I'm 13 and often get spanked with the belt or the switch (on bare butts and thighs) but I know what I did wrong and I feel it just to get punished. The worst is to sit in the school for the next days. And that my classmates like to check the visible marks on my legs (which I also do to others in same situation). But your brother suffered the punishment without being responsible what he did.

  4. I agree with you, it was terrible. My dad did a bad thing, but as some of my other posts note, I think he became a better father as he aged. He too had to learn some things.
    Unjust punishment is a bad thing, but sometimes it is hard to tell what is unjust -- from God's point of view. He sometimes lets bad things happen, but to avoid even worse things or, perhaps, to enable him to do better things. My brother's punishment helped him to not argue the decision to keep him from going back to that school -- if he had done so enough, I suspect everyone involved would have let him back in. That could have been a horrible mistake for him, for he would have been ridiculed by others always -- and perhaps even have lost his neighbor friend, Nancy. These things would have devistated him and affected him forever. As it was, after a period of adjustment, he led a fairly happy life. "God makes all things good" is a truth we often find hard to accept; we want the "good" now.