My father’s school breaks were always terrifying for me and my mom. He drank all day for weeks on end and abused us whenever he wasn’t passed out somewhere. We cowered in fear, hoping not to upset him. It never worked.
He yelled for me that morning, like he always did. Probably needed me to grab him another beer. “I’m coooming,” I said. Ten o’clock in the morning, and he was clearly already drunk.
He yanked me down the last few stairs and to the ground. Standing over me he growled, “Son, I’m gettin’ tired of you not listenin’ to me. It’s time to teach you a lesson you won’t soon forget. I think it’s time for the board. The Board…of Education.”
He took me out to the backyard shed. He pointed to several 2x4s and asked me to pick one. My father winked and grinned, then said, “It’s for the Board of Education, son.”
Shaking, I picked one. He smiled and hugged me. “Thatta boy! You got a good eye for wood, makes me proud.”
He grabbed the 2×4 and dragged me over to the table, where he pulled out a Sharpie marker and drew the shape of a paddle on the wood. He handed me the board and pointed at the jig saw. Then he said, “It’s time to cut The Board of Education, son!”
That’s when I started crying. Uncontrollably.
Furious, he ripped the board from my hands and hit me in the back of the head. “I said it’s time to CUT the BOARD, son!” So slowly, I cut the board, flinching each time he moved, never sure what would happen next.
“Now it’s time to let’er breathe.”
He handed me a circle cutter and told me to cut six circles in the The Board of Education. I froze, just thinking about what my father would do to me with it. My hesitation cost me again.
Uppercut to the gut. He picked me up from the ground and placed the circle saw in my hands again. “Let. Her. Breathe.” He said. So I cut the holes, then sanded the board down under my father’s watchful eyes.
“Time to decorate.” Using three colored Sharpies, I christened the 2×4 in red, blue, and green: THE BOARD OF EDUCATION He held it up with a smile on his face. “You should be proud of your work here, son. Now let’s see how well this baby works.”
With that, he swept my legs and grabbed me by the waist. He threw me up against the table, legs dangling in the air. Ripping my shorts off, he paddled me, I don’t remember how many times.
The creation of The Board of Education scarred me more than the beating. He never used The Board again. He didn’t have to.
He would just ask me, “Son, do I need to consult The Board?” I would immediately cow into submission.
My Mom left my father not long after that.
Beyond The Board
Fast forward about a decade. I had become a Christian, but there was a deep distance between me and God. I started praying about this distance, and the Lord whispered I had bitterness toward my father.
“No, I don’t!” I retorted with a bit too much passion. Maybe I did have some business to attend to after all.
So I decided to spend Christmas with my father, strictly out of obedience to God. Not any love for him. He picked me up at the New Orleans airport, and we had a three hour drive to Vicksburg, Mississippi.
Awkward conversations started and stopped, the result of two strangers and years of anger. “How was the flight?” he asked. “The woman next to me talked my ear off.” Stilted laughter. A full minute of silence. “How’s work?” “No complaints. Keeps me busy.” More silence.
Eventually, my father stammered out, “Chris, did you really come out here because God told you to?” “There is no other reason I would want to see you again, dad.” I started. “The pain you caused, before and after the divorce, scarred me. But I refuse to let my relationship with you hinder my relationship with God.” I stared at him.
“Son, I just don’t feel like I deserve God’s forgiveness. Not after everything I’ve done. What do you have to say about that?”
“If you are planning to earn God’s forgiveness, you’re screwed. We all are. God’s forgiveness is a gift. You don’t earn a gift.”
Then, for the next two hours, we continued talking about forgiveness. With tears streaming down his face, he pulled the car off to the side of the road.
Chris, what do I do? I feel so lost.
A few minutes of silence passed in the car as I struggled whether to give my father a ‘free ticket to heaven’ or let him stay condemned — as if I got to decide. I didn’t want him to be accepted by God. I wanted him to pay for his sins by going to Hell.
He deserved it.
But the longer we sat there, the more I realized I was no more worthy than him, so I relented. I led my dad in a prayer to become a Christian, on the side of the freeway between New Orleans and Vicksburg.
His life has never been the same. He stopped drinking that very night. He tells everyone that God sent his son to introduce him to Jesus the Son of God. He is a regular member of a church. He is learning what it means to love his current wife.
I am not saying my dad is perfect. Far from it. He still has his narcissistic moments. He still lacks understanding of social expectations. And I’m not suggesting that people who commit abuse should not be held accountable for their actions.
When I look back on The Board of Education, I see no redemption. It seems God was absent. Maybe busy. Worrying about someone more important.
I wish I knew why He didn’t intervene and keep me safe. But I am glad to say the story doesn’t end with The Board of Education.
Chris, my heart aches. I feel numb reading your story. I’m sorry isn’t enough. At the same time I am grateful for the strength God gave you to live through both moments. The impact of such trauma as a child. The willingness to forgive as an adult. Such courage.