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.