My grandfather grew up in Puerto Rico. When he was nine, his mother, in search of opportunity, came to the United States, leaving him behind to live with an uncle. Every morning my grandfather walked to school; every afternoon he walked home. Easy to envision. Just close your eyes.
Rather than carry all his books back and forth every day, my clever grandfather realized he could leave them in a cave on the way home, then pick them up the next day on the way to school. One day, a friend of his decided to pull a prank on him and take his books from the cave after he’d left them there. The next day my grandfather couldn’t find his books, had to go to school without them, without an answer for what happened to them. When he got home, his uncle found out and broke the child’s arm.
My father grew up in Spanish Harlem. Beatings weren’t just common in his world, they were progressive. The world outside the barrio did not exactly welcome Nuyoricans with open arms; it was important to correct anything early that someone who didn’t love him would crack down harder on later. Belts, broomsticks, wire hangars, chancletas, fists — he got ‘em all at home. Sometimes, he took what he got at home and brought it into the neighborhood; he’d beat down other kids.
Only once do I remember my father coming at me with physical rage, where there was clear (and I’d add justifiable) intent to hurt me. I was maybe 14 and it was summer; school was over. One very hot day he left for work after asking me to mow the lawn. I said I would, then spent the entire day hanging out with friends. Forgot the lawn completely. I walked in the house near dinner time, saw him 10-15 feet away in the kitchen, watched him turn toward me and instantly realized I’d flaked. What I didn’t know was that sometimes, you can make something bad so much worse simply by keeping it alive.
“I thought I told you to mow the lawn,” he said.
“Yeah, well, some of us don’t sit in an air-conditioned office all day,” I replied.
As he rushed at me, I welcomed the opportunity to finally take down my old man. As he shoved me back into the wall with a force I couldn’t imagine, my mother jumped up on his back begging him not to kill me, I understood how badly I’d erred. I never spoke to him like that again.
Amar’e Stoudemire was arrested this past weekend for misdemeanor battery after punching his daughter in the jaw, slapping her several times and drawing blood. Alexis Stoudemire, with whom Amar’e has two teenage daughters, told police she received a call from one of them asking for help, as well as a photo of her face after the alleged attack. The daughter in question — police have not identified which child was involved — told police her grandmother had called her name, to which the child said “What?”, and that Stoudemire “rushed inside her room and asked why she was giving attitude.”
The police report says the child denied having a tone, to which Stoudemire said “You’re talking back again” and then punched and slapped her “repeatedly.” After the police came and Mirandized Stoudemire, he told them the child “received a whooping from him for being disrespectful and a liar.”
Stoudemire has since taken to Instagram to invoke the Kyrie defense, i.e. I couldn’t have done anything bad because I’m Jewish.
Stoudemire was the ninth pick in the 2002 NBA Draft. I mention this not to do the hoary sports article thing where the details of a domestic violence case are juxtaposed with the athlete’s career resume. I mention it because Stoudemire’s talent projected him to be selected much higher, but there were concerns about him, not his character so much as his background. Stoudemire’s father died when he was 12, around the same time his mother was serving time in prisons. He didn’t start playing basketball until he was 14, yet attended six high schools before going pro.
This is not to say whatever horrors Stoudemire may be responsible for today are justified by the ones he endured when he was a teen. I don’t have access to the man or his story; I’d only be speculating. Even so, nothing justifies violence against children; if humanity weren’t so easy to root against surviving long-term, I’d hope to live long enough to see what the future thinks of American culture subjecting its children to so much violence, whether in media, schools, churches, the family, the military, etc. As a society we accept kids being shot at school more easily than we do police being shot at while on duty. Murdered children is the accepted, acceptable cost of propping up a society few seem satisfied with.
My grandfather hit his kids more than they hit theirs, though less often and less violently than he’d been. Same with my dad. I’ve never hit my child; she can barely fathom the stories I tell her about being a kid back in the day. The uncle who broke my grandfather’s arm? When he was young, anytime an adult came to visit the house he and his siblings were ordered to crawl under the bed and stay there, silently, the whole time. Children were neither to be seen nor heard. Follow any echo of violence down the generations and the same sick logic repeats: that somehow, the people who are the most vulnerable, the most defenseless, are the most deserving of violence.
Amar’e Stoudemire has been, professionally, nothing short of a miracle. I cannot imagine how many of his family’s generational patterns he’s disrupted or destroyed by virtue of his success as a basketball player. May we all of us bring that same energy to bear against the cycles of violence and injustice we absorb and unleash on those closest to us. As it teaches in the Torah, “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”