Last Friday the children were destroying the house with pent-up energy. It was Peru’s Independence Day, so no school, and we had just spent a week in the infamously child-unfriendly city of Arequipa. So I gave wife a little rest and took the boy and oldest girl to Parque Castilla, one of Lima’s best parks for children just a 10-minute walk away.
Convincing the boy to walk required a bit of negotiation so I could carry the 20-pound girl. He usually insists on going on Daddy’s shoulders, but we never would have made it to the park if I had to carry all 45 pounds of him next to the slow-as-fuck, easily-distracted, one-and-a-half-year-old daughter.
At the park they played in the playground, they jumped on the trampoline, we took a tour of the man-made lake in the paddleboat and we ate popcorn for two to three hours of nonstop fun and excitement. Then we started for home, again the boy walking while I carried the girl on my shoulders.
We stopped at the corner store for chocolate milk. Daughter on shoulders and boy in hand, I managed to get two little kiddie boxes of chocolate milk AND two soles into the same hand for the clerk. But a big fat idiot was dominating the clerk’s attention with questions like, “Do you have soda in a glass?”
In hindsight the question’s legitimate, but I was annoyed at how oblivious he was to the fact that I have a child on shoulders and another in hand with product and money in hand ready to buy. Most decent human beings would allow such a person to go ahead in front of them. He was wearing a green army-style shirt with a green, army-style hat with a shining red star on it. With his dark beard and glasses he looked just like a fat Abimael Guzman. I had been reading about Venezuela all morning, I disliked him already.
I got the clerk’s attention, paid and made for the exit. This particular store has tables and chairs, and the boy wanted to sit down to drink the chocolate milk. I overruled him and continued to pull him toward the house. He grabbed a fence just outside the exit with such strength that he stopped my forward trajectory and daughter fell from my shoulders.
Fortunately I had been holding her leg with one hand, so I caught her just before her head bounced off the sidewalk, but it came within two inches. The headfirst fall from about seven feet to zero feet sent her into an uncontrollable crying spell and scared the shit out of me. I released the boy’s hand and slapped his face, then grabbed his hand again and elevated him from the ground for the next 10 yards home before lowering him to walk.
During or after those 10 yards I hear Fat Abi shouting at the top of his lungs at me for how I treated the boy. I didn’t catch everything, but I specifically heard “tiene derechos” – he has rights.
I was already pissed after two to three hours in the park and then, but now my blood’s boiling after Fat Abi’s commentary. Home is just across the street from the store, so I get the children into Mami and then walk back to the store.
When the blood was boiling I had decided to hit him, but during the walk I realize it’s neither warranted nor wise. But I’m already en route and I’m still pissed, so I’m at least going to show him that I’m not running away from his fat ass.
Fat Abi was seated at a table with his friend and snacks when I walked in. I start shouting that if he wants to call the police, I live right there (pointing to my house).
Fat Abi lowered his tone from before, almost striking a compadre note in saying it’s not about calling the police, it’s about being “tranquilo” with children. He also has a son, he says, indicating his age with a hand around thigh level. I turned around and went home.
I told the concerned wife what happened. She gasped. What if he calls the police?
I laughed. Are you serious? You think it’s a crime to slap your child? Here? She insisted it is.
By this time I had calmed down enough to realize that the situation probably didn’t call for a slap, a punishment I almost never dole out. My preferred punishment is “time out” in his bedroom. The last time I used force was a slap on the wrist when, a few months ago, he kicked his sister in the face with his shoe on. He was lying on the couch when she approached, and he kicked her so hard she fell to the ground balling. I slapped his hand and put him in time out.
But this time wasn’t like last time. He hadn’t intentionally hurt his sister. He only grabbed the fence because he didn’t want to leave the store. He wanted to drink his chocolate milk at the tables, where Fat Abi was drinking soda. So I took the boy on my knee and apologized, and touched his face and asked him “Was this ouch?”
And the boy, bravo como el toro, “No Daddy, no ouch,” shaking his head, “No ouch, Daddy.” Mami covered a giggle, failing to keep the illusion of being mad at Daddy.
I gave him a beso and, still wondering if slapping your child is illegal, I asked Google. I learned that, in fact, Peru in 2015 passed the Law that Prohibits the Use of Physical and Humiliating Punishment against Children and Adolescents. According to the law,
The use of physical and humiliating punishment against children and adolescents is prohibited.
This prohibition covers all areas in which childhood and adolescence takes place, including home, school, community, workplaces and others.
The law defines “physical punishment” as “the use of force in the process of upbringing or education with the intention of causing some degree of pain or bodily discomfort, in order to correct, control or change the behavior of children and adolescents, provided that it does not constitute a punishable act.”
I’m not sure how that “provided that it does not constitute a punishable act” factors in, but from what I’m reading it looks like slapping your child is, in fact, a crime.
So I called up my police-officer father-in-law to confirm. Is it really a crime to slap my boy?
Yes, Suegro confirmed, it is. He added that they look for “huellas” – marks – and indications that the children are afraid of their father.
Whoa, back up, Papa. I understand what the law says and that there are parents who physically abuse their children. What I’m talking about here is a fuckin cachetada, a slap. No marks. The boy isn’t afraid. In fact he’s jumping all over me to play with him, that’s why I can’t hear you so well.
So, in a case where the father is clearly just giving his boy a slap, would you charge him?
Suegro said no, probably not. They technically could, but no officer that he knows would. He adds that most of his colleagues grew up with the belt, and they in turn used the belt on their children.
I added a dimension to the hypothetical. Assume the father who slapped his child was a gringo and the complainant was a Peruvian. BUT it was Peruvian Independence Day and the gringo is literally wearing my Peruvian flag t-shirt and matching hat, and the Peruvian is literally dressed up like Abimael Guzman with a fuckin red star on his hat. Would I get charged then?
Suegro laughed out loud and said, definitely not. He wouldn’t be sure about a really young officer, but definitely nobody who came out of the academy in the 80s or 90s would have charged me if that was the case. Don’t get it?
So I learned that the slap was in fact illegal, but I probably wouldn’t be charged for it. Kind of like old American laws which prohibit spitting on the sidewalk or sodomy. The only difference is in America they’re old laws which aren’t enforced anymore, as opposed to new laws.
According to UNICEF, Peru is the ninth Latin American country to prohibit physical punishment of children. The other countries with similar laws were Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, Uruguay and Venezuela. That was in 2015, there may be more now. So if you have children, you may want to look into what your country’s laws are just to be informed.
I’m not a gung-ho child-beater or anything. But I grew up in a typical American family where we were occasionally spanked and slapped. Not often and never any marks. I know that spanking is going out of fashion but I don’t really buy into the new-age thinking in this case. I was wrong to slap the boy in this instance, but I don’t think it’s wrong to slap his wrist if he kicks his sister in the face with his shoe on (or off).
What really pissed me off about it all was Fat Abi playing the good-dad card. I never play the good-dad card on anybody, but if we’re going to have a pissing match then there aren’t many better fathers than me. I work from home so I can help Mami anytime, and I don’t go out. I spend every single night and weekend at home with the children, and I’m always around during the workdays.
Fat Abi wouldn’t have known that I just spent three hours at the park with two children (which is quite a fuckin task if you’ve never done it), but he must have noted that I literally have one baby on my shoulders and another in my hand. Meanwhile, he’s spending a fuckin holiday drinking soda at the store with a friend.
Now if you’re reading this from Gringolandia, you may not think being out and about on a holiday is indicative of anything. But down here holidays are like Christmas or Thanksgiving. Nobody does shit. You spend the day with family, period. And of all holidays, it was Fiestas Patrias in Peru, which lasts for like a week. The whole country doesn’t do shit for a week, and on the actual Independence Day you certainly don’t do much more than take the children to the park.
It’s this day, of all days, that Fat Abi is going to play the good-dad card while he’s drinking sodas with a friend and I have two fucking kids with me.
Months ago, Suegro told me about a Peruvian term, “abandonado,” which Peruvians use to describe a father who is out and about with his child or children and no mother. He said the people of the neighborhood probably say it about me. I laughed. I told him I’m the Barrio King Abandonado. Not because wife has abandoned me, but because we have three. So each of us is always doing something.
Even if Fat Abi weren’t dressed up as Abimael and I weren’t rocking the Peruvian flag, they would recognize me as the Barrio King Abandonado. I’m always running around with kids in tow.
Peruvian or Latin fathers adhere to more traditional gender roles, in which most parenting falls on the women. So at the park you’ll see most children are accompanied by the mother only. Then a minority of children will be accompanied by both mother and father. And then it’s quite rare to see the children with only the father. I’m one of those fathers are our park, and I know all the other abandonados. I’m friends with them.
Many Peruvians and Latinos are excellent fathers, and they spend every holiday and Sunday with their families, but there is something uniquely gringo about us dads being highly physical and affectionate with the children, without mom. I don’t think you see that anywhere in the world outside gringo cultures.
I’m one of those dads, and Fat Abi got under my skin by playing the good-dad card while wearing that stupid fuckin Communist garb as he hangs out with a friend at a store with no children on a fuckin holiday.
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