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Giles Coren: ‘If a father’s “culture” can’t stop him hitting his children, then the law must’

Posted at 8:30 am, June 16, 2015 in News
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Beating a child is beating a child, says Giles Coren. No ‘allowances’  

I do not remember my father smacking me. Which is to say, I do not remember the actual moments of impact. My unconscious mind, thankfully, has done something clever with those.

But I do remember everything around the smacks. So I recall my father’s mounting rage, his reddening face, his struggle to restrain himself from doing what he was about to do. And I remember very clearly the aftermath of each ‘hiding’ he gave me, which involved me in my bedroom, face down in the blue polyester duvet, swearing that this time when he came to me asking for forgiveness, I would withhold it. I would not let him get away with it again. I would make him suffer for the way he had humiliated me.

And then I’d hear his footfall on the stairs, slowing as he got to the first floor landing, stopping outside my bedroom door while he gathered his breath, his gentle knock and then his voice quietly saying my name.

And I would ignore him. So then he would come in and sit down on my bed. And he’d put his hand on my shoulder (I never flinched away) and say:

‘I’m sorry, Giles. I just lost my temper. I’ve had a very difficult day. Will you forgive me?’

And when I said nothing he would tell me he loved me, which I knew already. And I’d sit up and put my arms round him and have a little cry and tell him I loved him too. And then he’d make up a cowboy story about a seven-year-old boy called Giles who saved the Lone Ranger from the baddies, and when we’d finished laughing and he was turning off the light and going downstairs, he’d say, ‘I am sorry, Giles. But, you know, Grampa Sam used to thrash me with a belt.’

And I would actually feel lucky that I had got off so lightly. Because gentle old Grampa Sam, described by the rabbi at his funeral as ‘a pillar of the synagogue’, had flogged my father until he bled. And I would think of Sam, when he was young, being beaten by his father – my Yiddish-speaking Great-Grampa Harry, who whispered a prayer before each morsel of food he ate, lest an unkosher flea had entered his mouth unseen – with what? A cudgel? A mace?

And what did Harry’s father beat him with, in the merciless Ukraine of the 1890s? A cat o’ nine tails? And his father before him, and his father, all the way back to our forefather Abraham, who was fully prepared to kill his only son, before God stepped in?

By eschewing weapons and citing the example of his own childhood, my beloved and deeply missed father was showing how far he had come from the eager son-sacrificing of our people’s early history. And he left me with the job – which I undertake with relish – of finally becoming a civilised, modern father and never harming a hair of my children’s heads. Never letting them fear their father. Never complicating their love for me in that way. For my own sake as much as for theirs.

So when I see liberal idiots suggesting that politically correct allowances be made when immigrant parents are investigated for hitting their children – as Mrs Justice Pauffley did in the High Court last week during an investigation into allegations of the abuse by an Indian father of his seven-year-old son, saying: ‘Proper allowance must be made for what is… a different cultural context’ – it makes my blood boil.

Because whether you are Muslim or Jew, Arab, African or Indian, whether tracing your disciplinary precedent back to Abraham or Ibrahim, you are wrong to hit your children. And you should be warned by the police, and if you fail to heed the warning you should be locked up.

Because if a father’s ‘culture’ can’t make him do the right thing, then the law must. Not so much to protect the children from the parent, as to protect the parent from himself.

Tough love? Tweet him @gilescoren