Belts and spatulas: a story of spanking, fear, failure and redemption

I had the pleasure of "meeting" Josh Barkey online awhile ago and was struck by his gentle spirit, vulnerable honesty and commitment to art. He has written a book called "Immortality Stories" and I wanted to honor the journey he has traveled. Here is part of Josh's story. I think it will resonate with many of you. EE.

: :

The worst part was always the waiting.

“Your dad will be home soon,” she’d say, “Go to your room and think about what you’ve done,” and I’d trudge the long hallway to crumple onto my bed, fighting the tears.

I did not, of course, ever actually think about what I’d done. What I thought about was the ball of acid-coated lava rolling around in my gut, sending shooting tendrils of dread out into my extremities. I thought about the belt, or spatula, or whatever happened to be in vogue that week.

I thought about the command to “Lean over the bed;” the sharp, stinging pain; and his unheard after-words as he wrapped me in his arms and explained why it was I’d had to be spanked.

My dad is a gentle man. A kind man. He did not enjoy hitting me.

But he was taught that a father who loves his child hits his child, and he loved me more than his own distaste for violence. He wasn’t about to “spare the rod” and spoil his child, so he acted out a ritual we both hated, and told himself it was the Right Thing to Do.

Sometimes I wonder how, with parents as loving as mine, I ended up being so afraid. Afraid of God. Of myself. Of life.

How did fear worm down into my heart? How did fear of an uncertain future push a recent college graduate into a relationship for which he was not yet ready, taking him to the altar and beyond? How did fear become so entrenched that he was unable to communicate in a way that would make his wife feel fully loved and cherished, saving the marriage so that his own son didn’t have to grow up between two homes... so he didn’t have to try to figure out this spanking stuff on his own?

I don’t know.

Life is too vast and complicated, I think, to ever blame a fear or a failure on just one thing. To say, “This, Josh, is why—despite everyone’s assurances that you were a natural-born writer and painter and odd-angled thinker—you were never able to believe it, take the step, and just Be who you Are.”

But I wonder, in this my thirty-third year, if perhaps those long, fear-filled hallway trudges might have something to do with it.

I wonder if now, having written my way free of enough of my own fear that I could take my son aside and say I was sorry, and never again would he be spanked, I wonder if it might just be safe to acknowledge that it is never a good thing to instill fear in a child.

That making is oh-so-much-harder than breaking, and that freedom to live at peace with yourself, God, and the world is only ever found when all the weapons have been beaten into plowshares. When belts just hold up pants, and spatulas only ever mix up cookie dough, as God intended. 

- - -

Josh Barkey is a writer and all-around artist who lives in an ivy-draped shed in North Carolina, and has found the courage to plunge into life as a full-time Maker. If you'd like to read more and support him in this, you can find the website for his new book at, or visit his blog at