From Swatting Kids To Growls And Chonk’lits

“Spare the rod, spoil the child.”

For a time, I took that cliche as gospel. I had been spanked and swatted as a child. In the 1940s and 1950s, those punishments were commonplace. I was hit. My friends were hit. We survived, and thrived.

The punishments worked. I refrained from quite a few actions because I did not wish to be swatted.

These days, I am told that my thinking verges on child abuse.

“Oh,” I say.

“Hogwash!” I think.

But I am a grandparent.

“Grandpa Denny” doesn’t hit grandchildren. I have no need. Grandchildren neither live with me, nor stay with us for long periods of time without their parents.

When they visit, the grandchildren are either superbly behaved, or misbehaved – as all kids are, from time to time – in ways that call for the situations to be handled by their parents, not their grandparents.

Sometimes, when left alone with grandchildren, I do growl. I do this mostly for effect.

It works surprisingly well.


I have become my own “urban legend.” My own children, now in their 30s, 40s or 50s, tell horrifying stories to their children about what an ogre “Dad” was. In truth, I was colorful, not ogre-ish. Forcing children to scrub a linoleum floor with toothbrushes is colorful, isn’t it? So is shoveling a foot or more of snow off the grass in the back yard, because, as I told my too-rambunctious teenaged sons on a day when school had been canceled due to a snowstorm, “I am worried about my grass. I need to see it!”

Yet they perpetuate “Dad was an ogre” stories, because all parents like to tell their own children how hard we all had it when we were their ages. The old “walked a mile to school, uphill, both ways,” legends. They get perceived sympathy by painting me as a stern disciplinarian.

I nod in agreement, even though I never said or did some of those story-line things.

Why do I agree?

“Grandpa Denny” benefits.

All I need to do is growl a very little bit, and pre-teen grandchildren get wide-eyed and silent. They do not wish to be swatted, or hung upside down by their heels, or made to scrub floors with toothbrushes, or forced to shovel snow off grass.

Inwardly, I chuckle. It can be a good thing to have grandchildren think that kindly old Grandpa wouldn’t do those mean things … would he?

Outwardly, I dispense occasional chonk’lits and Oreo cookies despite the disapproving glances of their eat-healthy parents, and of my own wife.

“My house, my rules!” I chortle, and the grandchildren and I indulge. When they leave, the sweets go away as well. I don’t eat chonk’lits and Oreos very often unless grandchildren are here.

But the image of kindly, sweets-providing “Grandpa Denny” softens the fierce “Dad” ogre of my children’s “We had hard lives” stories.

It’s a nice balance.

With one of my children, I did do something that today’s parents and child-care specialists might think is child abuse.

We pulled hair.

The circumstances were special. Greg, our fifth child, was born with Down syndrome. That genetic abnormality often produces preschoolers who are short, squat, quite strong – and not well equipped with fine motor skills.

When Natalie, four years younger, was born, we worried. Greg needed physical reinforcements for “No!” when he played near electrical outlets, or tried to grab kitchen knives, power tools, etc. We slapped his hands or swatted his diapered bottom loudly enough to produce noise.

But we had nightmarish visions of days when Big Brother Greg would get upset with the nibbing in of Little Sister Natalie, and swat her clear across the room because he couldn’t judge his own strength while angry.

An older parent of a Down syndrome boy solved her problem with garden hoses and squirt guns. After awhile, she would just reach for one or the other and Joey would stop misbehaving.

We thought that might be messy indoors.

So we started disciplining Greg by pulling his hair, reasoning that we had never heard of a younger child being killed from having hair pulled.

It worked.

Natalie would nib in. Greg would get mad. Greg would grab Natalie’s hair and yank. Natalie would shriek like a banshee. An older sibling or one of us parents would hear the shrieks, quickly intervene and not much damage was done.

I did get disapproving, looks at the mall or in church when I restrained a too-rambunctious Greg by holding onto a handful of hair. But, hey, you use what works, if it does no great harm.

Chonk’lits and Oreos, dispensed in moderation and only occasionally, do no great harm.

Those “Dad was an ogre!” stories impugn my reputation, but do no great harm, either. Instead, they make my rare “Grandpa Denny” growls more effective, and I need do nothing more intense.

I like that.

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Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: