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Military School – 1966

June 28, 2011

It was 1966. I was thirteen going on twenty. Looking back, I’m not sure I can blame them for sending me there. I was a handful. I was a strong willed child prone to rebellion. I’m sure the discussions went something like this.

He’ll learn some discipline. They’ll break him of that behavior. The school can teach him things that we can’t. He’ll be out of our hair.

Well, maybe they never said that last one. But the reality was, I was out of their hair — tucked away at a military school for boys in Tennessee. Passed off with a box of clothes and a tuition check saying… “Please raise my kid.”

In a childhood that would be known more the bad than the good, this became the first of the bad experiences. As parents we may not realize it but children get messages. They don’t see things in black and white, right or wrong. Something may be said and the child learns the wrong thing by misunderstanding the underlying message.

The underlying messages I got from being shipped off to school was this. “We don’t care enough about you to teach you about life. You are old enough to take care of yourself. When you are faced with a problem, rather than face it and fix it, you send it away.”

I wouldn’t know until many years later my parents taught me the value of the geographical cure. In the simple act of sending me off to school they taught me to run from my problems rather than face them. They taught me that maybe things would be different somewhere else. What I didn’t learn is no matter where I went, there I was.

Military school was not a good experience. I suffered from terminal uniqueness and was encumbered with the attitude of a non-conformist, a rebel in the true sense of the word. I wanted to do things my way, which was counter to the environment. A couple of months into my second year the school decided they had enough of Mickey Mills and sent me home.

Philosophers say hindsight is 20-20. Looking back I can say I was a victim of my own behavior. But I was also a victim of a far too common parental failure. I can sum it up like this.

My parents knew punishment. They just didn’t know how to discipline. They were ill equipped to teach discipline, considering the environment they were raised in — the lessons they learned. Back then parents were allowed to physically abuse their children. It might not have been right, but it was the way it was. I was punished; I was never disciplined, hence I became undisciplined.

Coming back from military school was tough. I felt like an outcast in my own home. I didn’t fit in at school, yet I didn’t fit in at home either. I was ripe for the counter-culture shift just around the corner.

But that’s another story.

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4 Comments
  1. Johanna Kaser permalink
    June 28, 2011 9:15 am

    On the flip side, Mickey, imagine not having parents at all, or being raised in orphanages or third world countries. Much as I can relate to your feelings of having less than perfect parents because I WAS a less than perfect parent, I did the best I could do with what I had for my daughters…and that wasn’t too great because of growing up with no parents at all and because of unhealthy habits. I’m sure your parents, as well, loved you the very best they knew how and did the very best they could do.

  2. Nell B. permalink
    June 28, 2011 10:28 am

    Heartbreaking to read this, Mickey. You said a mouth full….
    You are right….children get messages….they don’t have to be oral at all.
    You are also right that parents usually raise their children the way they were raised. Unfortunately. Sometimes it takes a couple of generations for this to change.
    Again, unfortunately some children fall through the cracks. Some parents never realize their failures, but there are some who eventually do…..and that’s very hard to swallow on a daily basis. You try to say “I did the best I could” but somehow it’s not enough. And when you have more than one child, you learn that they have different needs.
    Sometimes it’s just seeing your adult children doing a better job than you did!
    Amazing to me that you have to have a license and training to do a lot of things, but you can become a parent with no skills whatsoever!

  3. June 28, 2011 10:38 am

    Yeah, I know that intellectually. And I don’t blame them for anything. They did the best they could with what they had to do it with. Their dysfunction really didn’t have anything to do with me.

  4. June 28, 2011 10:39 am

    It’s not until we grow up and become parents ourselves that we can fully understand that our parents were only human. Just like us, they made mistakes. Some of those mistakes are heartbreaking. I’m so sorry you went through this.

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