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Vive la difference
Iranians are loving parents, but love has nothing to do with spanking



January 11, 2007 

My American friend and I are talking about kids. She’s upset over her son’s body piercing and is shocked to hear me mention the value of good spanking. “I’ve never raised a hand to him,” she says. “That would be a violation of his rights.”

“I’ve heard of that,” I say, but am unable to sympathize. “My daughter tells me none of her friends have experienced physical punishment, either.”

Now, there’s the mother of all cultural shocks! Since when did parenthood and spanking stop going hand in hand? You mean to tell me there are parents who’ve never even slapped a kid, not to mention beating the hell out of him? Next we’re going to be told kids have a right to select their careers, move out before being married, and choose just whom they’re going to marry! I’m telling you, the world is indeed coming to an end.

Iranians are loving parents, but love has nothing to do with spanking. Let the rest of the world talk of children’s rights and all that nonsense. The Iranian parents, especially those of us who feed and clothe our offspring at no charge, need to establish who’s the boss. We realize that children are indeed our property until they get married, at which point both they and whoever they are married to share that honor. But just talk to any Iranian-American, in particular those gheirati fathers, and you’ll understand how difficult it is to raise true Iranian kids.

What we proudly identify with as our inherited methods of discipline, the West sorely calls child abuse. After all, it isn’t as if we don’t know the law because, when we practice physical punishment, we are cautious not to leave marks, and if failed, we understand amongst ourselves that the kid must have deserved it.

The term “spank” alone indicates how little Americans know about child discipline. Being smart people, Iranians beat up their little rascals properly. We have given the matter serious consideration, and there’s a place and a time for each stroke. Our art of child punishment has reached perfection through centuries of practice. Only a true Persian would know the profound difference between massaging the ear (gooshmali), a slap behind the neck (pasgardani), and a kick in the butt (ordangi). Much like words or musical notes, they each have a place and a meaning: You pinch the ear to show power and/or promise the worst, slap behind the neck/head to indicate his stupidity, and use ordangi to dismiss him. These clear messages have eliminated the need for counselors, a PTA, or, God forbid, a child psychiatrist in our school system.

Indeed, Persians have created an entire body language in punishment. For example, should the ear be used, different moves have diverse meanings: A hard slap, Holly wood style, would indicate to one’s Western influence, because the authentic move for a Persian would be to deliver a good toodahani. Massaging the ear’s cartilage means you are capable – and willing – to torture silently, while pulling the earlobe will point him in a certain direction. For practicality purposes, we may use a combination of these fine moves, for instance, pulling someone by the ear can advance him to a convenient position for pasgardani, followed by ordangi, to conclude the session.

The fact that Iranians are exceptional students and possess self-control is in part due to having had the best of teachers. Long before the west had come up with their “how to” books, our teachers taught it to us through the yoga of standing in the corner of the classroom– often on one leg. They taught us to love animals by making us identify with baby goats (goosaleh), puppies (tooleh-sag) and even baby lizzards (Bozmajjeh) and, who among us can deny being called a donkey (khar) at one time or another? They made inventors out of us by using a pencil between our fingers to gain immediate results, and gave us flying lessons by grabbing our necks and tossing us out of the classrooms. Once in a while, the poor teacher might be tempted to break a fragile ruler while hitting someone in the head to prove that there was more to the instrument than mere Geometry.

And where were our parents during all this? On the side, and watching with admiration. They allowed all that only because in our culture, good teachers are like second parents, doing what they can to help us become better people.

We ate what was on our plates, did our homework without being reminded, and never considered getting tattooed. Unfortunately, regardless of the good examples we set, our children have the audacity to decide, have fun, and the word “chashm”, which used to mean unconditional obedience, has lost its place in Persian language.

When it comes to discipline, parents no longer remember the value of a good smack, and the effect of unfinished phrases such as, “Just wait till we get home,” or “Wait till your father hears about this,” and “If only my hands reach you,” are long lost.

“Did you spank your children?” my American friend asks.

Her question takes me out of the maze of fond memories. “Of course,” I say, and know immediately that I need to cover my tracks before she is tempted to report me to the authorities. “Not too hard, though. I mean, it left no scars.”

She turns to me wide-eyed and in total shock. “What about the emotional scars?”

There we go again and I know if I give her a chance, she’ll recommend more of her “how to” books.

I chuckle. “Us Persians don’t get emotional scars.” And, noticing the baffled look on her face, I add, “ I mean, we don’t hold things inside, instead, we get it out of our system by ‘’taking out somebody else’s father’ down the line.”

Well, not exactly an American expression, but I have a feeling she understood. Comment

Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani gave up dentistry to be a full-time writer. She lives in San Diego, California. Her latest book is "Sharik-e Gham" (see excerpt). Visit her site

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