I have a friend who has the wisdom to know that adolescence, a driver’s license, free time and the availability of a car doesn’t always translate into responsible choices. Consequently, any evening that his son leaves the house for recreational activities with friends, he and his dad always have the same conversation. Actually, I’m not sure you could really classify it as a conversation. My sense is that his son probably doesn’t provide a lot of verbal feedback. But the important words my friend shares with his son are ones he trusts his son will remember.
The script never varies. “If while you are out, you decide to have a drink or experiment with drugs, don’t drive home. Call me and I will come pick you up. There will be no questions asked and no consequences. Just remember to call”. The second cautionary word he provides closely follows. “If you rode anywhere with one of your friends and he has chosen to have a drink or experiment with drugs, do not get back in his car and ride with him. Call me and I will come pick you up. There will be no questions and no consequences”.
I was absolutely amazed with the wisdom displayed in his cautionary request of his son. I thought to myself, “Your son is lucky to have you as a father”. I mentioned that the concept sounded very much like a variation to one of the cities of refuge in the Bible. The cities of refuge were towns in the Kingdom of Israel and Kingdom of Judah in which the perpetrators of manslaughter could claim the right of asylum; outside of these cities, blood vengeance against such perpetrators was allowed by law.
How many parents do you know that possess the wisdom to obligate themselves to a “no questions asked/no consequence for your behavior approach” in exchange for their child subsequently choosing to make a wise choice? What an effective life lesson my friend is regularly communicating to his son. Simply stated, “One unwise choice doesn’t have to be followed by a second unwise choice.”
At the recommendation of a friend, the General (aka – my wife) and I recently watched the move “The Judge”. As a quick synopsis of the film, “Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.), a brilliant but shady attorney, returns to his Indiana hometown after learning that his mother has passed away. His arrival triggers renewed tension between himself and his father, Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall), who makes no secret of his disapproval of Hank’s morally ambiguous career. As the lawyer prepares to depart, his father is arrested for a hit-and-run death. Hank takes on his father’s defense, despite the objections of the resentful old man”.
As he story unfolded, I found myself thinking about the story line of how an authoritarian dictatorial father’s rigid and punitive approach to parenting forever alienates him from his children. In the process it splinters all of the family members and harmony and unity are out of grasp. I see that same storyline played over and over again in any number of families.
By accident, I ran across an article on Ted Turner. “Had he been coddled and cooed over, Ted Turner might have become an underachiever. But what drives him to this day is rooted in boyhood events that in hindsight seem cold, even cruel. He was packed off to boarding school at the tender age of 4, and he spent most of his formative years at military schools. His relationship with his father, Robert Edward Turner II, was difficult, some would say abusive, although he does not describe it that way.
“The boy idolized the man, but the man had a weakness for alcohol, was prone to mood swings and often treated the boy harshly, trying to make him tougher. When the boy was defiant, his father beat him with the leather strap used to sharpen a straight razor, or with a wire coat hanger.
“‘It wasn’t dangerous or anything like that,’ Turner recalled. ‘It just hurt like the devil.’…
Turner remembers his mother as ‘a nice lady’ and said he loved her dearly, but his father dominates any conversation about his early years. In a book about his life, he described how she stood outside the bedroom door and begged his father to stop spanking him.
Even as a child, Turner loved nature and the outdoors. His first word was “pretty,” he was told. Yet at 4, he suddenly found himself alone, in a grim boarding school with no grass, only blacktop for a playground, while his father served in the Navy during World War II.
The experience left him with lifelong abandonment issues, and Turner acknowledges in ‘Call Me Ted,’ a 2008 book about his life, that he is not comfortable when left in his own company. He compulsively fills his schedule so he doesn’t have to sit still or be alone. His former wife, Jane Fonda, has said he lives his life as though he is trying to outrun his inner demons.
“After his father came home from the war, Ted spent even more time away, at strict Southern military schools. He liked learning about military strategy and all the battles, and his early education informed his thinking. His lifelong motto became, “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”
“His father wanted him to go to Harvard, but Ted didn’t make the grades. He did get into another Ivy League school, Brown, but left before graduating. Although there were some disciplinary scrapes — he set fire to a fraternity parade float and was caught with a girl in his room — his father cut off his tuition because he disapproved of his major.
“The elder Turner believed studying the classics was a waste of time, as he made clear in a letter. An excerpt:
My dear son,
I am appalled, even horrified, that you have adopted Classics as a major. As a matter of fact, I almost puked on the way home today. … I am a practical man, and for the life of me I cannot possibly understand why you should wish to speak Greek. With whom will you communicate in Greek? … I think you are rapidly becoming a jackass, and the sooner you get out of that filthy atmosphere, the better it will suit me. … You are in the hands of the Philistines, and dammit, I sent you there. I am sorry.
“Turner shared the letter anonymously with the school paper in an act of defiance. But before long the money ran out and he was back home in Georgia, working for his father’s billboard company. He was put in charge of the Macon office.
“He was just 24 when his father shot himself and died in the upstairs bathroom at the family’s home near Savannah, Georgia. It was March 5, 1963, and the elder Turner was under the influence of alcohol and pills, battling depression and worried he had overextended himself with a $4 million purchase that expanded his company, Turner Outdoor Advertising, into the South’s largest billboard company.
‘‘He went against everything he taught me: ‘Be courageous and hang in there,'” Turner said.
Did I mention that an authoritarian dictatorial rigid and punitive approach to parenting leaves more victims than it creates heroes?
If only more fathers had the level of wisdom my friend displays with his son, what a healthier relational lifestyle would blossom. A “might makes right, do it my way or the highway” approach never fully provides the level of nurture, support and love that a child needs.
None of us is perfect. Our kids don’t always get it right. My friend’s approach of, “There will be no questions asked and no consequences” in response to telephoning home to ask for a ride offers a variation of the city of refuge approach. Making the telephone call would be awkward. Would you have the courage to make it?
All My Best!