How to Raise a Tyrant

I was in a department store one evening recently, and overheard a father and his toddler daughter having a “conversation”. They were about 30 feet away from the exit, standing with their cart and she was hanging on the side of the cart, whining rather loudly about wanting to get back into it to ride to the exit. Daddy was trying to reason with his little darling, saying “but we’re almost at the door already”. Too bad she was having none of it. Of course you can already see the punchline to the joke coming a mile away…”you can’t reason with a terrorist“…and I’m thinking to myself “Oh that poor, poor man. She’s three and he is SO screwed already. What he really needs is to grow a pair and say ‘no’ to her”. As in “no, you can walk” and take her hand and start walking. Oh I know, I’m probably going to have a boatload of parents jump on me and tell me you have to pick your battles, and yes, I’m sure you do. But come on, you lose one this early, are there any you can seriously hope to win?

I see it a lot, kids telling the parents how it’s going to be. Say what? That would have bought me a one way ticket to the flat of my dad’s hand! And before all of the child protectionists are up in arms, I was never beaten. Down boys and girls! I was just spanked. There is a difference, and there were times when I – and my sisters – deserved it. There was never any doubt who was in charge in our house. Dad said “Jump” and you asked “how high” as you were already poised to leap. It wasn’t blind obedience, either, but trust. I knew that he loved us and he always had our best interests at heart so if he told us to do something it was with good reason. I might not understand or like it, but there it was. As I got older, and started to question it more, well, that became an entirely different conversation, and of course by then I was too old to spank as well. But as a child, I listened to my daddy because he was in charge. End of story.

Another thing, what ever happened to vacations that were things like summer road trips, or camping in state parks? It’s like the line that Max Kellerman says in Dirty Dancing “Trips to Europe, that’s what the kids want. Twenty-two countries in three days.” That’s nice. They can see Europe and the Caribbean when they graduate from college and have jobs. For now, have they seen a state park in their home state? Mount Rushmore? Yellowstone? The Grand Canyon? The Smithsonian? The Everglades? Stars in the sky when there is no city light pollution, and they realize for the first time what galaxies are? If not, maybe you’re doing them (and your bank accounts) a big disservice. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard “well it just wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t go to [insert your favorite thing here: Disneyland/world, Bahamas, St. Martin, Mexico, Costa Rica, Hawaii, etc.], or “I just want my kids to have all the things I didn’t have”. But did you turn out so rotten? The answer is, you didn’t, and in fact you have an appreciation for those things because you didn’t have them as a child. So perhaps it would be better to not just hand all of them to your kids, but let them work for them as they can as well. Or provide some sparingly.

I remember my parents renting a Bethany pop-up camper when I was little, and pulling it behind the car as we went different places on vacation. We would find KOA campgrounds, and park the car and set up the camper. The top would go up, the sides pull out and voila, 2 beds, a microscopic kitchen and living room. I don’t remember much about the specifics of any of the trips, but snippets…the thunderstorms scaring us half to death…the long walks to the community bathroom, especially at night…the community showers. My recollection  is that it was fun, although it’s possible I’m viewing it through a lens clouded by many years gone by. I can also remember some vacation trips we took to the Black Hills, the Wisconsin Dells, Brainerd MN to see Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, which scared me to death when Paul talked to me on the loudspeaker and greeted me by name! screen-shot-2017-01-18-at-10-18-57-pmHow could he possibly have known that? Of course, when my dad paid for the tickets, he gave our names to the ticket taker and the ticket taker gave them to whoever provided the voice of Paul, who then talked into the microphone and it came over the loudspeaker. What? What do you mean you’ve never heard of Paul and Babe? screen-shot-2017-01-18-at-10-32-12-pm


They’re part of the lore here in Minnesota. Paul Bunyan was a legendary giant lumberjack of superhuman strength and skill, and Babe was his blue ox that usually accompanied him everywhere.

There was an amusement park named after him in Brainerd many years ago, with a giant seated Paul that talked, and an equally large Babe. It was a rite of passage that sometime in your childhood you went there. Today the park is gone but there are still a couple of Paul and Babe statues around the state, and you can often find things named after them. Next time you meet a native Minnesotan of a certain age, ask them if they saw the “talking Paul Bunyan” as a child, and chances are they’ll smile and say “yes”. Now, many places claim to have been his birthplace, but as Minnesotans know, he truly loved the north woods of this state so much, that when he died he was buried here. Need proof? His gravestone marker which is near Kelliher, MN. screen-shot-2017-01-18-at-10-42-04-pm

I wouldn’t give up those memories for all the trips to Hawaii for anything. They’re so precious to me, and Hawaii will always be there, but things like this aren’t, and I’m so glad my parents had the insight to put their collective feet down with us and made us appreciate what we had, and made us learn how to behave in public, and to work and play well with others. Now if that were only criteria for running for public office.


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