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PUNISHMENT/ A father is never the owner of his son. Not even at Disney World

A father is on trial for having kicked his son. LUIGI BALLERINI discusses the education of a child, the use of physical punishment and what it means to be a parent.

(Infophoto) (Infophoto)

Depending on how we are told a story, we tend to take a side. Think of a war movie: the point of view of the narrator, who introduces us to his reality, makes us feel one way or the other. That is what happened with the cowboys and Indians as well.

Therefore, if we read that a man savagely kicked a child, his son, in the face, making him bleed, we are horrified and call him a criminal, but if we listen to his story, in which giving his son a kick in the pants transformed him into a mistreated and harassed delinquent, we immediately change our opinion. The Italian newspaper La Stampa entitled their article, “For a kick in the pants, I became the monster of Epcot”.

Here is the story, in brief, as reported by its protagonist. A father is walking through Disney World in Orlando, USA, with his two sons, when the elder, nine years old, accidentally drops his three-year-old little brother, who had recently had eye surgery for congenital glaucoma. The father angrily kicks the older brother in the behind, scolding him harshly, and bends down to see the bloodied face of the younger son. A tourist quickly approaches, scolds him and starts an odyssey that led to the Italian father struggling with the police who handcuffed him, the mistreatment of his wife, six hours locked in a police car in the sun, a night in jail, and now a trial in the United States.

This article is not about whether this father was right or wrong. There are no reasonable grounds to doubt or to believe his version of the story. The fact is the way he was treated, at least as the story reports, seems truly shocking and inhuman, and makes us somewhat tip the balance toward defending him. Instead, what is interesting is the question that the article, and thus the story itself, pose. Because if in stories like this one has to cheer for someone, or if one has to take a side, probably the only one to take is that of the child.

In the interview, one is struck by the quotation “Mind your own business; this is my son”, said by the father to the first tourist who intervened. This seems to be the key to the question.

On the one hand, we cannot help denouncing the invasiveness of a police system that treats a father who kicks his son, occasionally we hope, when he loses his patience or is afraid the same way as a rapist, a murderer, and a thief. However, we must also be careful about saying “this is my son”, in order not to fall into the possible, and terrible continuation “and I can do whatever I want”. That would be saying that parenthood is something that is above judgment.