|For a while now, I've harbored suspicians that James Dobson is out of touch with reality. Anyone who vocally criticises an animated talking sponge for promoting tolerance while remaining silent about a gay male prostitute sneaking into the White House press corp without a proper background check has something seriously wrong with him. |
But yesterday I received my confirmation in the form of an anti-spanking Web site. In an essay at the site, the very insightful Chris Dugan deconstructs a passage from Dobson's book, The Strong-Willed Child (sorry Jimmy, I'm not linking to your book). I suppose I could just cut and paste some snippets, but really, you should read the entire thing. Dugan's analysis is just spot on. (Just to make things a bit easier to read, excerpts from Dobson's book are in bold; Dugan's comments are in regular font.):
In his best-selling book, "The Strong-Willed Child," child-rearing author James Dobson describes how he abused his family's pet dachshund, Siggie: This guy's kids are going to be in therapy for the rest of their lives. And I don't mean Chris Dugan's.
"Please don't misunderstand me. Siggie is a member of our family and we love him dearly. And despite his anarchistic nature, I have finally taught him to obey a few simple commands. However, we had some classic battles before he reluctantly yielded to my authority.
"The greatest confrontation occurred a few years ago when I had been in Miami for a three-day conference. I returned to observe that Siggie had become boss of the house while I was gone. But I didn't realize until later that evening just how strongly he felt about his new position as Captain.
"At eleven o'clock that night, I told Siggie to go get into his bed, which is a permanent enclosure in the family room. For six years I had given him that order at the end of each day, and for six years Siggie had obeyed.
"On this occasion, however, he refused to budge. You see, he was in the bathroom, seated comfortably on the furry lid of the toilet seat. That is his favorite spot in the house, because it allows him to bask in the warmth of a nearby electric heater..."
[Chris's commentary]: One of the greatest "secrets" of nonpunitive parenting (or pet-keeping) is "don't sweat the small stuff." If the dog is comfortable sitting on the toilet seat by the heater, why not let him sit there (so long as no one has to use the toilet at that particular moment)? Of course, for the neurotically-rigid James Dobson, sweating each and every little trivial, easily-avoidable non-issue and turning it into a battle of wills is the pure essense of what child discipline is all about. He writes:
"When I told Sigmund to leave his warm seat and go to bed, he flattened his ears and slowly turned his head toward me. He deliberately braced himself by placing one paw on the edge of the furry lid, then hunched his shoulders, raised his lips to reveal the molars on both sides, and uttered his most threatening growl. That was Siggie's way of saying. "Get lost!"
"I had seen this defiant mood before, and knew there was only one way to deal with it. The ONLY way to make Siggie obey is to threaten him with destruction. Nothing else works. I turned and went to my closet and got a small belt to help me "reason" with Mr. Freud."
[Commentary]: What Dobson never explains to his readers is WHY it was so essential that the dog sleep where Dobson wanted him to sleep instead of where the dog wanted to sleep. Dobson is behaving like a toddler who throws a violent tantrum if his "bedtime ritual" isn't adhered to down to the slightest detail. Making Siggie go to sleep on command where and when Dobson wants him to has been part of this overgrown toddler's bedtime ritual for six years. Now, Siggie is interfering with a small detail of this bedtime ritual of Dobson's by wanting to sleep somewhere else which is warmer and more comfortable. So Dobson, true to his infantile level of emotional maturity, throws a violent tantrum:
"What developed next is impossible to describe. That tiny dog and I had the most vicious fight ever staged between man and beast. I fought him up one wall and down the other, with both of us scratching and clawing and growling and swinging the belt. I am embarrassed by the memory of the entire scene. Inch by inch I moved him toward the family room and his bed. As a final desperate maneuver, Siggie backed into the corner for one last snarling stand. I eventually got him to bed, only because I outweighed him 200 to 12!"
[Commentary]: This is one sick puppy, and I don't mean the dog, either. Dobson is OBSESSED with control. I suspect that this stems from the punitive upbringing he endured as a young child (and which he now praises, with unintended irony, for making him what he is today). Now that he is a grownup, and too old to spank, he is determined to get everything HIS way, by golly! He is a 200 pound, verbally articulate version of the "strong-willed" toddlers whom he always exhorts parents to whip into submission "with a belt or switch" because "pain is a marvelous purifier." Dobson is walking proof of how just how badly a spanked child can turn out. The fact that parents like this exist in the world is an excellent argument for why all forms of corporal punishment should be abolished forthwith.
Just in case the more slow-witted among his readers fail to grasp the obvious parallel between his relationship with his dog and the type of parenting advice the man as become rich and famous by dispensing, Dobson then lays it explicitly on the line:
"But this is not a book about the discipline of dogs; there is an important moral to my story that is highly relevant to the world of children. Just as surely as a dog will occasionally challenge the authority of his leaders, so will a little child -- only more so." (emphasis Dobson's)
Dobson says that his Focus On the Family organization is engaged in a "new civil war" in which the "forces of Light" (child hitters, homophobes, Operation Rescue, would-be censors, etc.) are pitted against the "forces of Darkness" (antispankers, gays and lesbians, Planned Parenthood, free speech advocates, etc.). This man treats dog ownership as a war, he treats childrearing as a war; indeed he appears to see his entire life as a war.
Dobson even views some crying babies as "little dictators" engaged in a bid to control and enslave their parents, and advises parents not to let the child "win" by picking up the child and soothing it. He warns that:
"[I]t is possible to create a fussy, demanding baby by rushing to pick him up every time he utters a whimper or sigh. Infants are fully capable of learning to manipulate their parents through a process called reinforcement, whereby any behavior that produces a pleasant result will tend to recur. Thus, a healthy baby can keep his mother hopping around his nursery twelve hours a day (or night) by simply forcing air past his sandpaper larynx."
[Commentary]: This is a classic example of a neurotic projecting his own unquenchable symbolic cravings onto babies who are simply trying to get their needs met in the only way available to them, by crying. Indeed, Dobson himself is an excellent example of how babies turn out whose needs are not met. Because HE was not picked up when he cried as a baby, he finds crying babies intolerable. He perceives THEIR needs as insatiable and urges parents to just ignore them and let them cry themselves into silent, exhausted despair. The genuine emotional needs of babies, unlike the symbolic pseudo-needs of neurotics, are not bottomless pits which can never fill. Babies whose needs are met are LESS demanding and troublesome than babies whose needs aren't met, not more so. For proof, one need only observe cultures in which babies are carried everywhere next to the mothers's body in slings and their needs for feeding or attention instantly gratified on demand. According to Dobson, these should be incredibly "spoiled" cranky babies, but they aren't. (For more about this, see Jean Liedloff's excellent book, "The Continuum Concept").
Dobson's parenting style CREATES the sorts of problems for which he then claims to offer the only solution. He bullies children, and when they resist his oppressive, degrading treatment, he uses their "defiance" to further justify his behavior. He sees the family as "a heirarchy of strength" in which the one with the greatest physical might and the strongest will prevails. His books are full of military metaphors in which children "marshall their forces," and "launch" every "weapon" in their "arsenals," while parents are advised to "draw a line in the sand" and to "win and win decisively" whenever a child "sticks their big hairy toe over the line" because "the child has made it clear that he is looking for a fight and his parents would be wise not to disappoint him." In fact, it is Dobson himself who starts out looking for a fight by his dysfunctional need for total control, (even to the point of dictating precisely where and when his dog sleeps at night). Yet, whenever his children can't stand it anymore and mount a valiant, hopeless bid to resist his domestic tyranny, he blames it on the children, claiming that:
"Perhaps this tendency toward self-will is the essence of 'original sin' which has infiltrated the human family. It certainly explains why I place such stress on the proper response to willful defiance during childhood, for that rebellion can plant the seeds of personal disaster."
[Commentary]: The "rebellion" which Dobson blames on the child's original sinfulness is actually just the flip side of Dobson's own authoritarian, Parent-Wins-Child-Loses, control-obsessed approach to parenting. Totalitarian oppressive behavior by dictators breeds insurgency - coercive bullying behavior by parents breeds "rebellion." Dobson CREATES this sort of behavior in children, and then uses it as proof that still more authoritarian bullying is the only solution to the "rebellion" by "strong-willed" children which his tyranny provoked in the first place.
Dobson uses the same weapons which third world dictators utilize to break the wills of pro-democracy dissidents: pain and fear. The major difference is that when dictators torture and intimidate anyone who resists THEIR tyranny, THEY don't claim to be doing it for their victims' own good as an act of love. Dictators torture and intimidate because doing so meets THEIR needs. So does James Dobson.