Wednesday, May 09, 2007
Once upon a time, I was a college brat. I consumed alcohol (yes, underage), stayed up late partying, did not do my homework, and managed to lose a full-ride scholarship with my bad grades. During spring break of my freshman year, I went home to SoCal and brought my girlfriend and roommate with me, so we could all hang out at the beach. Huntington Beach, to be specific; Surf City, USA. Lifeguard Tower 19.

Unbeknownst to my parents, I had gotten my ear pierced while away at college. (This was the mid-80s, so a pierced ear still 'meant' something back then...left ear 'meant' edgy and radical, while right ear 'meant' gay. Mine was in my left ear!) Well, I walked in the front door and my Mom saw it immediately.

She went all hysterical on my butt. Screamin', cryin', hissy-fit hysterical. How could I DO this to her??? Didn't my family mean anything??? Was nothing worth my respect??? What would be next??? A tattoo??? Well, an 18-year-old-brat likes nothing more than to get a rise like that out of his Mom; BULLSEYE!!! While she hardly spoke to me for the rest of the day, I spent the day gloating in secret satisfaction.

At some point, she called my Dad at work and told him. When he came home that afternoon, he greeted me with a hug, and then looked at my ear. His reaction?? He got this look on his face which was a combination of amusement, disappointment ... and pity. Yes, pity... like he felt sorry that his son grew up to be such a dolt that getting a rise out his mom would provide such facile amusement. He shook his head and said simply, "Good grief." And he walked away.

Emotionally, he had sucker punched me. He never said another word about it. He knew he had hit the mark. In fact, in order for his one comment to continue to have effect, it depended on him not saying another word. And of course, my Dad is a smart enough man to know that.

This is something that Fathers know. There is most certainly time for discipline. There is also time for letting a child do what children do. The Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son did not beat his son silly, as his culture would have allowed him to do. He lets his son go and make an ass out of himself.

When kids decide to make asses of their selves, it's best to simply let them. They WANT attention. This is a throwback to very early childhood, when a baby thinks that it is the center of the universe, and everyone exists to satisfy its needs. When kids become young adults, they slowly learn that they are only one of some six-billion souls in the world. The absolute WORST thing that an authority figure can do is to reinforce their leftover infantile mindset by giving them precisely what they crave.

Mothers (being mothers), rarely learn the lesson that less is more. Even when the child has matured and is well beyond that stage, mothers continue to react hysterically. My Mom still does. Fathers know this intuitively.

In the late 80s, a now-defunct rap group called 2 Live Crew put out an album with some rather filthy lyrics. The album did not sell well. At least, not until some boneheaded Christians got involved. The American Family Association managed to convince the Governor of Florida (Mel Martinez) that something should be done about the album. At the instigation of the Governor, the Sheriff of Broward County arrested both members of the group and record store owners for performing and selling (respectively) the record. Controversy arose, and sales for the album skyrocketed. The group had enjoyed extremely limited attention until people started making a fuss about them.

My reasons for writing this post are here. Suffice it to say, I have not watched the video (edit: apparently it has been removed from YouTube.) and I don't intend to. Like my Dad, I'm smart enough to know that attention is exactly what the makers of this video wanted. People who DO give them attention, people who DO react like "MOTHER" ... well, they're the boneheads I was talking about.

A few years after my earring incident, I 'wised up', got my act together, and finished out my last four semesters of college with a near 4.0 GPA. Some people take longer to mature than others. I also went on to get a Master's Degree at Concordia University, Irvine, and I am now finishing my Ph.D. at UCLA. I am a former Fulbright Fellow; I speak two languages and read three more.

My Dad doesn't say, "Good grief!" anymore. He said it once. That was enough.
posted by Kepler at 08:22 |


At 5/09/2007 03:04:00 PM, Blogger ghp

Great post!

Understated disappointment, the kind which father's do seem to be better at than mothers (for whatever reason), is indeed a powerful motivator. I didn't/don't like making my father angry, but I've always found that more palatable than disappointing him. His muted reaction was/is always worse than his loud/intense responses.

My reaction to the video was more along the lines of yours, rather than that of McCain's.

From my own experience, and that of my dad's, 19 y/o males are about the dumbest creatures on the face of God's green Earth. The video in question goes a long way towards bearing that out.

Again, nicely done!


At 5/09/2007 03:24:00 PM, Blogger Kepler


Thanks for the reply. Yeah -- 19 y/o guys. Boy was I an example of that!

My son is only one right now; I have 18 years to prepare...that's probably not long enough.



At 5/12/2007 03:59:00 PM, Blogger solarblogger

Great post!

Our moms and dad's are similar in temperament to each other's. My dad has always had much greater power over me with his words. And he uses far fewer of them.


At 5/21/2007 04:35:00 PM, Blogger William Weedon

Hey, I LIKE my earring... but I try to be judicious about when I wear it. No need to cause needless offense.

But aside from that - great insight in your post. The power of calm is pretty amazing.


At 5/29/2007 08:12:00 PM, Blogger Paul T. McCain

I'm very grateful that the university didn't react with nothing more than a "good grief" -- I would hardly compare getting your ear pierced, stupid as that was, with descecrating sacred spaces and symbols of our faith.


At 5/30/2007 09:42:00 AM, Blogger Kepler

Hey, Pastor McCain. Thanks for dropping by.

You know, last I checked, my body is a Temple, and therefore it is (in and of itself) a sacred space, n'est-ce pas? Did I not desecrate a Temple for the purpose of dishonoring my Mother and Father? If anything, what I did was worse (except that I did not videotape my Mother's reaction and put it on youtube). I am glad, by the way, that my Mother and I can laugh about that now!

And I don't think I was suggesting that "Good Grief" is the "magic bullet" response to any and all adolescent tasteless and/or rebellious behavior. Different situations certainly require differing degrees of reaction.

My point was (as Pr. Weedon saw) is that "low-key" responses (whatever the variety) are universally better than mother-hysteria.

I can't think of a single Biblical example where mother-hysteria is used as an example of how to solve problems (at least not in a good way). Solomon didn't use it. The Father of the Prodigal didn't use it (although the older Son did!), Jesus didn't use it with the Prostitute (either of them).


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