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Michael Pearl's nephew speaks out on God, beatings and To Train Up a Child

Michael Bailey as a child
Michael Bailey

In the weeks following the publication of my article Another couple found guilty of murder for parenting by "To Train Up a Child," I received quite a few emails. Many were from survivors of the types of discipline mandated in the book, and even from the adoptive mother of two children who were removed from the home after their father (an alleged follower of To Train Up a Child) was found guilty of killing their baby brother.

Another was from the girlfriend of Michael and Debi Pearl's nephew, Michael Bailey. After she and I exchanged emails, Michael expressed his willingness to tell his story.

In this exclusive interview, Michael Bailey talks about his own childhood, how it influenced his views on religion, his infamous uncle and his relationship with his family now.

Can you tell me your relationship to Michael Pearl?

Michael Pearl – Uncle Mike to my siblings, cousins, and me – is my mother’s brother. Around the age of 11, my (single) mother broke her neck and moved our family (2 sisters and me) to the community where my uncle lived in middle Tennessee (from the relatively high-stress ‘city living’ of Atlanta, GA).

Were you brought up with the teachings of Michael Pearl and "To Train Up a Child"?

For the next few years I was. Up until that point, I would say that my mother only partially adhered to his teachings – or to be more accurate she did her best to raise us as she and Mike had both been raised themselves. I believe that over the years Mike has formalized what was in the past simply traditional child rearing (in the South at least) into a more structured and defined child training methodology.

How would you characterize your childhood?

I remember in my early childhood (around the ages of 4-5), my sisters and I lived with an abusive father, and I remember my sisters and I simply being afraid when he and my mother fought. I don’t remember him ever striking any of the children, but he certainly beat her. After she left, things normalized a bit (at least normal in the world of single parent homes). My mother worked late most of the time, so my two sisters (one older by 3 years and one younger by 2) learned to take care of ourselves. It was around this time that I discovered reading fiction, and science-fiction in particular – which I mention because this ultimately did more to shape who I am than any active parenting.

What sort of discipline methods did your parents use during your childhood?

Before we moved to ‘the community’, I remember getting what seemed like a daily spanking. I’m sure it wasn’t quite every day, but it was often enough for me to remember it that way. Each of the children were given different house cleaning chores that we were supposed to complete by the time my mother got home from work (typically anywhere from 9:00 – 11:00 pm), and if we didn’t we would get spanked. It was certainly something we dreaded, but not enough to get us to actually do the work (well, not enough for me anyway – I think my sisters were a bit more ‘obedient’). In addition to that, I remember lying a lot (usually trying to avoid getting in trouble for something that would result in a spanking) and I would get spanked every time I lied. Spanking usually consisted of 10 ‘licks’ with a belt or less, depending on the severity of the incursion. On occasion I would get grounded or – when I was much younger – made to stand in a corner. Grounding was largely ineffective since my mother was rarely around to enforce it.

My mother remarried shortly after we moved to the community, and strong attempts were made to bring a sense of repeatability and order to our child training/rearing/raising. My new stepfather was a former marine, and for the most part he felt that I had gotten too old for spanking (though it was still reserved for major situations), and instead primarily relied on military-style discipline. I remember doing lots of jumping jacks and push-ups for the next few years.

I do however remember one situation, after my mother moved to the community but before she remarried, when I believe she was very reliant on her brother’s lessons. This was before he published his book, though by only a couple years. As I remember it, my cousins (his children) and my siblings and I were all playing around an old barn on our property. We were probably playing some form of tag or hide-and-seek. At one point, on the top floor of the barn there was a stall/opening that had been partitioned off from the outside (about a 10-15 ft drop to the ground) with a type of plywood that was about waist-high. In the middle a small notch had been cut, which to a 12 year old boy looked like a perfect spot to urinate. I don’t remember this next part clearly – but I am sure that I urinated off the top floor through this little notch onto the ground below, and one of my younger female cousins must have been down below because I got in trouble for ‘exposing myself’ to her.

My uncle came over and with my mother took me out to the barn to discipline me for this. Again, I don’t remember this clearly, but I do remember feeling like I was being accused of ‘sexual perversion’. Essentially, my uncle would spank me for a bit and then give me an opportunity to confess. Upon refusal, he would repeat. I don’t know exactly how long this went on, but it went on long enough for me to form a very strong will. It got to the point where I wasn’t going to admit to anything because I wasn’t going to admit to something I didn’t do, no matter what. Some sense of integrity was conflated with typical childhood rebellion, and I just wasn’t going to give in.

Eventually though, I did say whatever they wanted me to say because another part of me knew that they had the power, and I was just subjecting myself to this pain for no reason. I’d like to think that they knew I was only saying what they wanted me to so they would stop – that I still had my integrity and thus the ‘power’. In reality, I would guess that he was only trying to break my will and probably thought that this was success – or at least the first step towards success...

Continue reading: Part two

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