November 25, 2012

"It is obvious that none of you has the faintest notion of the bitter disappointment each of you has in your own way dished out to us."

A father writes to his adult children:
We are seeing the miserable death throes of the fourth of your collective marriages at the same time we see the advent of a fifth.

We are constantly regaled with chapter and verse of the happy, successful lives of the families of our friends and relatives and being asked of news of our own children and grandchildren. I wonder if you realise how we feel — we have nothing to say which reflects any credit on you or us....

Fulfilling careers based on your educations would have helped — but as yet none of you is what I would confidently term properly self-supporting....

None of you has done yourself, or given to us, the basic courtesy to ask us what we think while there was still time finally to think things through. The predictable result has been a decade of deep unhappiness over the fates of our grandchildren. If it wasn't for them, Mum and I would not be too concerned, as each of you consciously, and with eyes wide open, crashes from one cock-up to the next. It makes us weak that so many of these events are copulation-driven, and then helplessly to see these lovely little people being so woefully let down by you, their parents....
More at the link, plus this story about the man (Nick Crews), the kids that have disappointed him, how his email got shared with the world, and the world's response (embrace!).
Crews has been swamped with encouraging messages from friends and former colleagues. “They’re saying, ‘I feel exactly the same about my children.’ Or, ‘You’ve said what I wish I’d said a long time ago.’”...

“I bought into the fashionable philosophy of not interfering; letting the children find themselves. When they were getting into trouble — at school, or later with their relationships — I would just bite my lip and tell myself, ‘Don’t butt in, it’s their lives.’”...

"I was trying to express my frustration at these wonderful grown-ups who had yet to make the best of what they had. They have read the criticism, but not seen the enduring love through the lines.”

He pauses: “I haven’t done well as a father, have I?”
Via Walter Russell Mead, via Instapundit.

63 comments:

ricpic said...

Human nature being what it is they'll probably punish him by not allowing him to see his own grandkids.

Sumbunnyluvsu said...

As a parent, you are only as happy as your unhappiest child.

Stacy McMahon said...

Actually it's better than that. His oldest daughter gave an interview and said dad was right and she was learning from his words ...and in the very next breath blamed him for not instilling her with sufficient self esteem.

O Ritmo Segundo said...

That's got to be the best letter I've read ever! Probably the best letter of all time.

Perhaps not the feel-good letter of the year for some, but at some point, someone has to speak to all the pointless misery people make of their need for temporary happiness and self-gratification. Better yet that it came from a parent.

edutcher said...

Tough love.

MikeR said...

He lacks the basic respect that a parent owes his children: To allow them to grow up and be responsible for their own decisions. That can be hard when the children don't turn out matching his own goals, but they are not him.

Sending them the email jointly was bad enough. If he had to say something, it should have been to each one individually. There is no reason that the other siblings should hear about his complaints against one of them.

But to allow the email to be published, shaming his children to the entire world! I think it is close to unforgivable, and I understand that they have not forgiven him. One more example of how the internet allows people to make unbelievable mistakes with egregious consequences.

pm317 said...

Obama voters.. These are the children Obama targeted, hunted down, and hoodwinking to pull the votes out of their fist even when they didn't want to vote (because I can't imagine them to be caring about anything like the responsibility of voting for a responsible leader).

Mitchell the Bat said...

Seldom does one see so articulate an expression of frontal lobe disinhibition syndrome.

O Ritmo Segundo said...

Yes, pm - social programs are so much more instantly gratifying than money directly into your pocket! (Or into the pockets of people you'd like to buy off, but somehow can't).

wyo sis said...

I sympathize with his frustrations. It's too bad they became so public. Possibly parents can use it as a springboard to discuss things with their own children. It's very hard to watch your children make terrible mistakes, and even harder when your grandchildren suffer because of them.

Meade said...

Stupid to put something like that in an email.

Instead, basic respect says he should have typed and printed it out and then traveled to visit each adult child and read his letter to them one-to-one.

No wonder "All Three" have difficulty managing their lives, abuse their mother, and are emotionally stunted.

Meade said...

Just saw MikeR's comment after publishing mine. Completely agree.

Goddess of the Classroom said...

I read the background of the story. The father's elder daughter published the letter, with his permission.
I think his point is so much his kids' life choices as much as it is their complaining about them and then not doing anything about them, including (especially?) not taking their mother's advice.

madAsHell said...

My father was a note writer.
I always thought it was chicken shit.

O Ritmo Segundo said...

It doesn't sound like MikeR read the article, Meade. There it said that the kid allowed the email to be published.

Lincolntf said...

Shaming people is a time-honored way to teach lessons of morality. If the kids really are making messes of the grandkids lives in pursuit some side-nookie, which seems to be the implication, then they should be ashamed of themselves. The father is well within his rights.

MadisonMan said...

A parent is to some extent responsible when their kids don't have coping skills. So there was something that was not done when these kids were growing up.

The world doesn't want to see someone else's parent-child drama, however, whether it's a tantrum with a 2-year-old in a store, or a letter written by bitterly bitterly disappointed old men.

sydney said...

Very harsh. He seems most upset about their lack of material success. I would be far happier to have a child with a low wage job who was a good person than to have one with a great career who was a bad person.

Meade said...

"There it said that the kid allowed the email to be published"

It doesn't sound like you read MikeR's comment, Segundo. The point is the father should have never used email for conveying such private and individual thoughts to his children.

O Ritmo Segundo said...

Glad to agree with Lincolntf for once...

I just think that if you really do care, you should express it every now and then. Yes, there is a lot of virtue in biting one's tongue for the sake of comity and presuming you don't know everything about what will make someone else happy, but it seems like this guy had gotten well past that point.

Carol said...

My father was a note writer.
I always thought it was chicken shit


So was my parent...and the advice would have been better received had she not made such a bloody mess of our lives already.

But this guy seems exemplary, an intact marriage, successful career and "cuddly" albeit ineffectual father. I suppose they just thought him behind the times and repressed.

O Ritmo Segundo said...

I did read what Mike said, Meade. The first two sentences of his third paragraph make it clear that allowing the publication of the email was the most troubling thing to him, moreso than the fact that the email existed. Is it really worth arguing about? Perhaps it's a different point than yours.

jimbino said...

Now he owes us taxpayers a refund of the 3 x 13 x $12000 = $468,000 that we wasted on mis-educating his useless kids.

LarsPorsena said...

In the future we won't have to worry about seeing this kind of embarrassing episode. Children will not know their fathers and the fathers won't care. See climbing illegitimacy rate.

MikeR said...

o Ritmo, one child gave permission. How did the one child gain the right to do this to the other two? The other two are, naturally, the ones who won't forgive him.

Bob said...

It's well worth adding Walter Russell Meade to your blogroll/RSS feed, Ann. Very thoughtful, intelligent writer.

O Ritmo Segundo said...

Yes, Mike. It's the eldest child who bears the burden of responsibility for publicizing it. I guess if that's what really got to the other two (as would be their right; publicizing an email is inherently more disrespectful than simply writing one), she might have blanked out the names, left out her own, or otherwise.

My dad is part of a large family. Sometimes the way he keeps the peace among all of them when it comes to how they meet their shared obligations to their parents seems like more trouble than it's worth. I defer to his judgment on that, but I don't begrudge someone for putting their feelings into an e-mail if warranted, jointly or individually - especially if they can be more articulate and honest. It can be messy, but I think he had already passed the point of proving that he was open to considering the respect that one's individual choices deserve. How many broken marriages are enough? It didn't seem like he didn't care, but because he cared, that he did it.

Of course, YMMV.

Ann Althouse said...

"It's well worth adding Walter Russell Meade to your... RSS feed..."

I can't remember the last time I read an RSS feed. Never liked reading that way.

Lincolntf said...

I like that he sent an e-mail and that he addressed it to "All Three". Conveys, whether he meant it to or not, that he considers their gripes and bitches one big monolithic shitshow. Why list Susie's divorce, Joey's skirt-chasing or Mary's penchant for wandering off with men she meets at biker bars, he's just saying "fuck it, you all know the messes you made, and you're all just as bad as the other".

MikeR said...

' "She rang me to ask if I minded my email — in which I urge my children to begin again — being published: she thought it would raise an interest in the book. I agreed, but only if her brother and sister didn’t mind.”
They were “lukewarm” about it.'
I'll bet they were. Sorry. Disgusting.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Not being a parent, I'll gladly accept correction from those who are on this...

But I agree, the correction ought to have been delivered personally to each, not as a group. Better it had been said than written, via email of all things. If the father felt it necessary to write out his words--so that they were measured--then write it and share it personally.

That way, if one child did want to publish her letter, it's not obvious that the other children were also rebuked--and thus are shamed publicly.

That said, there is a lot of wisdom in what he wrote. I was especially impressed with the observation that his children's choices so often seemed driven by lust. Well...welcome to the latter 20th century, in which we're assured this is an iron law of human action, which are not even choices. Recently we had an op-ed in the Washington Post that said we can't expect our West Point cadets, and military men and women, to refrain from sex with each other, so we must simply sanction it. Why, even on the front lines, the urge is completely irresistible!

That said, does anyone else find the letter has a fair amount of narcissism in it?

MikeR said...

I would add.
I may not be that much of a father, but I know this: I have had at least one of my kids who drifted into a lifestyle that was both immoral and terribly harmful to him. I won't specify, but it had to do with drugs. By now, I believe and pray that he has weaned himself from his very harmful habit(s). How did we do it? We didn't. He had to do it. Our role in it was, my wife and I never hinted to him that we thought what he was doing was okay or a good idea or liable to lead to success. And we _never_ hinted to him that it _ever_ had once occurred to us that he didn't want to be successful himself. All we could do for him was love him, and accept him despite his problems, and continue to believe in the basic integrity and will to succeed that I believe every human being has. The rest he did himself, and I for one am awfully proud of him.

MikeR said...

"Recently we had an op-ed in the Washington Post that said we can't expect our West Point cadets, and military men and women, to refrain from sex with each other, so we must simply sanction it." Meh. Lust is an enormously powerful driver of human actions. Most of us who haven't slipped, haven't had very impressive opportunities either, for which I am thankful. At least that's my impression. Any man can be seduced; we're hardwired that way.

The problem today IMHO is that people have no sense. If husbands mess up, they should do it discretely (has that word gone out of fashion?) and protect their wives. If wives find out, they should be hurt, but hurt discretely. The husbands should try to make amends. Everyone should try to make marriages work despite mistakes.

I remember a woman expert on the Dennis Prager show years ago, pointing out that in many Latin and European countries, it was common for men to have and support mistresses. Dennis jumped up (figuratively: it was a radio show) That's right! How did that work out for their marriages? She answered, The thing was, it was unheard of for a husband to marry a mistress. Ever. She was no threat to the wife, even if the wife didn't like her.
Fascinating to me. We have no sense today of what's truly essential and what's less so. Soldiers have sex? Whoa!

James said...

All we could do for him was love him, and accept him despite his problems, and continue to believe in the basic integrity and will to succeed that I believe every human being has.

Ahhh...the old "unconditional love" bullshit. Sorry, but ALL love is premised on conditions.

My kids are still relatively young but you can bet that if they screw up they will hear it from me through whatever means it most convenient to reach them.

GrapeApe said...

Think you're wrong here Meade. The letter could have been published regardless of how it was delivered.

That said, I rather admire him for taking some responsibility and parenting his kids. That's a job that never ends- I am 47 and my ma is still telling me what to do, but with the money she and my dad have invested, she has that right.

I would guess that this man's estranged children will regret their petulance.

SteveR said...

This is nothing unusual. This is just a reality TV show, "Keeping up with the Cock-Ups", Fridays at 8pm on TLC.

Chai Chai said...

Ann, I wonder if you realize that publishing this could be construed as racist.

Some racial groups may not even think to ask these questions or make these arguments as they don't apply.

It could also be considered politically divisive. Isn't this how the parents and grand parents would feel (if they cared at all) in the "Life of Julia?

This person must obviously be a Conservative or a Christian.

Your thoughts on this would be very welcome.

Joe said...

The very people who demanded autonomy in the fifties and sixties, have since engaged in an all out war against men and parenthood. They have stripped parents of responsibility, claiming all are a hairs breadth away from doing horrendous things.

On top of all this, kids were repeatedly told--indoctrinated really--that they were special and they could do anything they wanted. When parents tried to give their children reasonable guidance, they were told it was being cruel and mean.

After fifty years of this, why is anyone surprised that we have entire generations of kids who have a profound sense of entitlement and blame everyone but themselves for not getting whatever their whims desire. We have entire generations who have gone into debt to an unbelievable degree and now whine about it (exacerbated by a government which actively encouraged them to take out loans.)

(However, the father was being heavy handed and should have taken a deep breath and not been as selfish in his response as he accuses his kids of being.

I've been there. Fortunately, I rewrote my response several to my oldest when she lashed out at me. She later apologized and we talked about it as two adults. Turns out her mother had fed my daughter a whole lot of lies about me. In combination with her sense of entitlement, I understand why my daughter had lashed out and she understood why I'd done things I'd actually done.)

Chai Chai said...

"This person must obviously be a Conservative or a Christian."

How dare they care!

Dust Bunny Queen said...

It sounds like a lot of things are wrong and went wrong here. I'm just guessing however, but based on examples of people IRL that I observe.

The lais·sez faire style of parenting from the 60's is mostly responsible for the failures of the children to grow into responsible adults. It has come back to bite them in the ass. After years of 'let them be free to find their own way' and what sounds like a lack of discipline, the parents are disappointed in their children's lack of focus, lack of discipline and whining entitled attitude.

Too late, the parents try to give advice, and the children dump all of their emotional garbage onto the parents, who are burdened with guilt and angst over their grandchildren. Too little... too late.

Why an email? Perhaps after years of trying to speak and give [belated] parenting the frustration of 'talking to the hand' and seeing your words go down into a black hole, he just felt that this would be the last effort.

I feel sorry for all of them. They are victims of blindly following faddish culture and feel good style of living and parenting.

Reap what you sow.


Dante said...

I assume the guy writing this is British (cock-up means mistake, not sex with random men).

Our society sucks. Here is how it sucks.

A) It isn't your fault.
B) It is some others fault.
C) Mom not home, the whole social net is gone.
D) Jerry Springer society (Someone out there is worse than you, so don't worry about it).
E) Along with that, Oprah, whose sole purpose seems to be to provide women with ammo to shoot at their husbands with when they get home.
F) The destruction of the intellectual. It used to be the super smart guy that brought life back to a man. Or the smart professor who knew the lore to kill a vampire. Now, it's Robin Williams and "Flubber," the guy is completely unsocial, and his great contribution is to take a bunch of untrained, fat, and undeserving kids and help them cheat to win a basketball game against "mean" trained people.
G) Everyone's a winner.
H) Stupid ideas like "Whole-word, look-say", which was adopted by idiots in CA, and much of the country, despite the evidence it was a liberal pile of crap (Ken and Yetta Goodman were the proponents, need I say more?). Along this line, every teacher's association in the country.
I) The goddamn preoccupation with that shiny, fascinating idea called "Fairness." Life isn't fair, you can't make it fair.
J) Evil congruences by Democrats and Republicans, like the importation of a culture that's totally immiscible with 21st century requirements, and might I add, our own society.
K) Racism. Screw Racism. I'm tired of Racism, Racism, Racism. Why is my kid reading a book for his English class explaining how all the great deeds of the government saved some black girl and allowed her to go to college? All these programs have been a massive failure. I'm not impressed with the 17% college matriculation rate of blacks, even less impressed with the 13% college matriculation rate of Hispanics, while Asians are near 50%.
L) Encouraging out of wedlock births, through various programs.
M) The destruction of the family.
N) The arrogation of the government of functions best left to the people, like welfare.
O) Nurses at UC Davis making far more money than professors.
P) Stupid environmental focus, like Global Warming. Study it for a while, read the arguments, and you know it's a fool's errand.

How did this happen? There are so many people alive today. We should have 100 Einsteins right now. My father can't find white people to study his field (bio-chemical toxicology, mostly drug metabolism in the body, brain, etc.) They are all imports.

Rant, Rant, Rant, Moan, Moan, Moan.

At least I can buy an Ipad or Iphone if I want.

Now I hear the latest fad is to replace the typical metrics of GDP, etc., with a "wellness" indicator. Like, how happy you are, life expectancy, etc. As if it would be the perfect society if we could be hooked up to machines, and be fed the non-damaging equivalent of Heroin 24X7.

Who are the heroes? Oh, Barrack Hussein Obama. Mmm, Mmm, Mmm.

Peter Hoh said...

Some time after I became a father, on a visit to my hometown, I took one or both of my kids to visit the parents of a childhood friend. The old man was comparing the way he was raised with the way he raised his kids. Referencing the book, I'm OK, Your'e OK, he said, "I was brought up 'not OK.' It wasn't good. I tried to correct that. Sometimes, I think my kids (and by implication, the entire postwar generation) were brought up 'too OK.'"

ambienisevil said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Freeman Hunt said...

He raised them. Maybe he should write a letter to himself.

Freeman Hunt said...

I'd go so far as to say that the man is typical of his generation. Opt out of the parts of child rearing that require more thought and sustained effort, then complain that the children didn't magically turn out as they would have if he'd not opted out of those parts.

Letter wants for grace and humility.

ken in sc said...

In the military, leaders are taught to praise in public, and criticize in private. It always worked for me. I was also taught to never take an ass-chewing over the phone. Just hang up in the middle of your excuse. The boss won't expect you to hang up on yourself. Technology is so unreliable.

Peter Hoh said...

It would seem that some lines from Philip Larkin would fit the occasion. Larkin wrote this bit in which he imagines his readers:

My readers…Sometimes I imagine them, sullen fleshy inarticulate men, stockbrokers, sellers of goods, living in 30-year-old detached houses among the golf courses of Outer London; husbands of ageing bitter wives they first seduced to Artie Shaw’s ‘ Begin the Beguine’ or the Squadronaire’s ‘The Nearness of You’; fathers of cold-eyed lascivious daughters on the pill, to whom Ramsay MacDonald is coeval with Rameses II, and cannabis-smoking jeans-and-bearded Stuart-haired sons whose oriental contempt for ‘bread’ is equalled only by their insatiable demand for it . . . .

Larkin's advice regarding children: Don't have any. It's in one of his most well-known poems,
This be the Verse, which, thanks to the wonders of our age, you can listen to him read, though died 27 years ago.

You can listen to the complete bit about "my readers" read by Alan Rickman, an imperfect transcription of which can be found here.

Dante said...

Freeman:

He raised them. Maybe he should write a letter to himself.

The thought definitely crossed my mind. My suspicion is that the traditional structure of society is slowly being destroyed in favor of a new one.

The survivors will be those who retain the traditional foundations, such as church, marriage, etc., but at a penalty.

Not only financial penalties, but also social ones, such as rejecting evolution and the ridicule from that.

Hey, I'm an atheist, but I've been ridiculed by my friends for being a skeptic of global warming, for instance (skeptic means don't know).

Lydia said...

...the man is typical of his generation. Opt out of the parts of child rearing that require more thought and sustained effort, then complain that the children didn't magically turn out as they would have if he'd not opted out of those parts.

Not sure I'd accuse him of opting out. I'd say that it was as he said himself that he had "bought into the fashionable philosophy of not interfering; letting the children find themselves."

Bad choice, but it doesn't imply he just walked away because of a lack of concern.

Freeman Hunt said...

Not sure I'd accuse him of opting out. I'd say that it was as he said himself that he had "bought into the fashionable philosophy of not interfering; letting the children find themselves."

I think one of the things that made that philosophy so attractive was that it required so little effort. People took it as not just allowing children to find themselves, which isn't an all bad idea, but as a pass to fail to transmit skills, culture, and wisdom. The result of not passing on those things is evident in my generation.

Lydia said...

I'm of the same generation as the letter writer, and speaking only of my own experience, I can tell you that it was hard to resist the siren song of that let-them-express-themselves philosophy because it was presented as the right and caring way to raise children. And friends of mine who did go that way actually worked pretty darn hard at it, believe it or not, because they had to stifle their instincts to raise their kids the old-fashioned way.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

I agree with Freeman and Lydia. It is hard to be a real parent and easy to try to be a friend or colleague of your children. Loving, consistent discipline measured with the right amount of encouragement without being falsely overly indulgent.

When everyone [other parents] around you are doing the lenient, let themselves, Montisori type of parenting and you are the dinosaur....you constantly question yourself. Am I doing this right. Too much? Not enough? Only time will tell.

In addition, each child is a unique person. The tactics that might work for one child may be completely useless or completely crushing on the other.

Parenting is HARD and it is the most valuable, rewarding thing you will ever do in your life.

leslyn said...

I don't know...It sounds to me that Dad's expectations that his children lead lives that reflect upon him as a success is part of the problem.

Peter Hoh said...

jimbino Now he owes us taxpayers a refund of the 3 x 13 x $12000 = $468,000 that we wasted on mis-educating his useless kids.

His children went to private schools.

Peter Hoh said...

Is there any evidence that the guy was anything other than a stern military officer dad, or is there just a lot of projecting going on?

His daughter is quoted thusly in one of the follow-up articles: “I had already done what he told me to do. I had already given myself a kick up the backside.” She admitted spending “many years underperforming”, partly because her father’s uncompromising stance left her with little self-confidence.

Freeman Hunt said...

Peter, Crews himself said he bought into hands off parenting.

“I bought into the fashionable philosophy of not interfering; letting the children find themselves. When they were getting into trouble — at school, or later with their relationships — I would just bite my lip and tell myself, ‘Don’t butt in, it’s their lives.’”...

Freeman Hunt said...

He blames contemporary culture, which proffers us “a cancerous cocktail where on the one hand everyone is supposed to be free to do whatever they wish, but on the other we all expect protection from the consequences of our actions”.

He's certainly right there. I'm not a fan of his email, but I enjoy the stories in his interview.

Palladian said...

Dad sounds like an asshole. I bet his offspring screwed up their lives just to make the old bastard miserable. Good for them.

Peter Hoh said...

Point taken, Freeman.

I was reading perhaps a bit too much in the daughter's statement that her father had an "uncompromising stance." Perhaps both are true -- he was hands-off and uncompromising. That would seem to leave the kids a bit adrift, don't you think?

There is an "old school" style of hands-off parenting that is consistent with this approach. Today's parents, I am afraid, tend to be spineless cheerleaders or directors (the helicopter parent is another name for latter).

I think it's also the case that the father grew up in a time when certain social expectations kept young people of the middle class from wandering aimlessly through their twenties and thirties. If those social expectations were in place, then the default for most young people would be to fall in line. Without those expectations, the default is an extended adolescence.

Paul said...

Parents are supposed to give guidence. Even in the animal kingdom parents give their offspring guidence on how to survive and conduct themselves.

So yes I see how so many parents who just let their kids do what they want might be shocked to see how undisciplined they are and how messed up they make their lives.

Should we go the Muslim route and on each and everything under pain of death?

NO.

But to just let them 'find themselves' is a cop out. I have relatives that did that to their kids and every one of them has ruined their lives time and time again.

Pogo said...

Tolstoy 's principle is wrong, I think (Anna Karenina): Happy families are not all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in similar ways.

The Captian seems to be expressing a common complaint among failed parents, "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child."

He made many mistakes, the email is sufficient evidence for that, but his critique was likely a direct hit.

It scuttled the ship, what was left of it. His daughter seems to have found him on the shore. But the other two remain on their own islands, no treaties in the offing.

I pray for a truce, for all their sakes, for such wars are never won, merely endured.

pduggie said...

Nobody has commented on his "copulation-driven events" clause?

I find it interesting.

carlbridges said...

A whole lot of speculating is going on in this discussion: Dad did this wrong, kids did that. Any of it might be true; most of it might be false.

Beware the critic who says, "All he had to do was . . . ." That way lies folly.