November 15, 2014

Fatherly discipline of the old-school, patrician kind.

From George W. Bush's book "41: A Portrait of My Father." George W., college age, driving drunk, hits a garbage can and zooms into his parents' driveway:
Mother had watched the scene unfold. She was furious.

“Your behavior is disgraceful,” she said. I stared at her blankly. “Go upstairs and see your father,” she said.

I defiantly charged upstairs and put my hands on my hips. “I understand you want to see me.”

Dad was reading a book. He lowered his book, calmly slid off his reading glasses, and stared right at me. Then he put his reading glasses back on and lifted up the book.

I felt like a fool. I slunk out of the room, chastened by the knowledge that I had disappointed my father so deeply that he would not speak to me.

That was as close as we got to an argument. Dad was not the kind of man who engaged in verbal fisticuffs. He would let my siblings and me know when we were out of line, and he expected us to correct the problem. Eventually, we did.
I think most parents don't realize how much discipline can be achieved through wordlessly conveying expectations.

29 comments:

Laslo Spatula said...

The Audacity of Parental Expectations of Acceptable Behavior.

Martha said...

I am a firm believer that once the parent loses his/her temper the parent has lost the battle. Effective discipline results when the parent keeps his cool.

roadgeek said...

My father would glance at the top of the gun cabinet without saying a word. Just glance. That was where he kept the paddle, you see, and a glance was enough to quell any rebellion on my part. No words needed.

AJ Lynch said...

I find the Bush family to be incredibly boring. And its two presidents have been mediocre at best and devoid of good ideas or vision.

Meade said...

"Effective discipline results when the parent keeps his cool."

So true. If only GHWB had kept his cool after telling us to read his lips...

My grandfatherly advice to new fathers (and mothers): never argue with a child, a dog, or a Progressive.

Laslo Spatula said...

"Fatherly discipline of the old-school, patrician kind."

Just to be fair, lesbians can do this, too.

Meade said...

"Just to be fair, lesbians can do this, too."

They can but they only make it harder for themselves if they choose to wear dildo print shirts on the day they do it.

Laslo Spatula said...

Son: "Dad, I just landed a spacecraft on a comet."

Father: (pushing glasses down nose) "That's good, son."

Son: "Look at the shirt I'm going to wear at the press conference: isn't it cool?"

Father: (pushes glasses back up, resumes reading)

Son: "What? You don't like it?"

Father: (reading silently)

Son: "Well, it doesn't matter. I like it, and that's what's important."

Father: (reading silently)

Son: "I'm an adult now, I don't need your permission."

Father: (without looking up from book): "That's good, son."

Son: "This about the tattoos, isn't it? You never liked them. Mom said they make me look low class."

Father: (without looking up from book): "You can discuss that with your mother if you like. Again."

Son: "I don't NEED you to like them: they are a statement. They are a statement that I am making, and it is MY statement."

Father: (reading silently)

Son: "Whatever I do isn't good enough for you, is it dad? It's never good enough."

Father: (reading silently)

Son: "Fine. Fine. I'll go change my shirt! There -- you win! I'll be a good son and change my shirt so I don't embarrass you. That's what you want, right?"

Father: (without looking up from book): "It is your choice, son."

Son: "Dad?"

Father: (pushing glasses down nose) "Yes, son?"

Son: "What shirt should I wear?"

Father: (setting down book) "Something simple and classic, I would think. Maybe pale blue."

Son: "Okay..."

Father: (pushing glasses back up, resumes reading) "And long-sleeve, so it covers those tattoos."

B said...

I think most parents don't realize how much discipline can be achieved through wordlessly conveying expectations.

I disagree. I think that requires a significant investment on the parents' part. Building those expectations over many years is no small feat.

Devoting so much time and mental effort to that style of parenting may be out of reach for low income, single parents.

Meade said...

Lesbian Daughter: "What shirt should I wear?"

Progressive Father: (setting down book) "Something simple and classic, I would think. Maybe the one with the vulva prints all over it."

EDH said...

Reads like a push-back against the Oliver Stone narrative.

And picked-up be the media.

Dubya, Stoned
Why Oliver Stone had to bowdlerize our president's life story.

There's a misapprehension abroad that W. is an Oliver Stone movie about George W. Bush. That gets it exactly backward. The life and presidency of George W. Bush were an Oliver Stone movie well before the director of JFK and Wall Street arrived on the scene. W. merely records that unassailable fact.

If this claim strikes you as tendentious, consider the following scene in W.: Late at night, a drunken 26-year-old Dubya is seen driving home with his 15-year-old brother Marvin. The two have been out carousing. Parking his car outside his parents' house, Dubya smashes into some metal trash cans. A light goes on upstairs. As the two brothers stagger inside, their stern-faced father is waiting for them.

Poppy (shouting): I've had enough of your crap!

Dubya (raising his fists): Let's go mano a mano. Right here, right now!

Could there be a more hackneyed example of Stone's penchant for musky histrionics? But it really happened. In the 1999 biography First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty, former Dallas Morning News reporter Bill Minutaglio writes:

"He'd been drunk, and he was out driving with his fifteen-year-old brother, Marvin. After he had rammed through the garbage cans with his car and walked in the front door of the house … he was ready, if it was going to be that way, to fight his father. He was from Houston, Texas, he was beery, he had no real career, it was late, and for most of his life he, more than anyone in the family, had been measured against his father, his grandfather, the Bush legacy. That night, he'd stood in front of his father, in the den, and asked his father if he was ready to fight: "I hear you're looking for me. You want to go mano a mano right here?"

Laslo Spatula said...

"Maybe the one with the vulva prints all over it."

From the Lena Dunham Winter Collection.

tim in vermont said...

The way the scene reads in the post, it looks like Bush per was making a little joke at Bush fils.

Maybe he had no idea why young George was sent upstairs, and so he was "seeing" him.

Big Mike said...

I think most parents don't realize how much discipline can be achieved through wordlessly conveying expectations.

In fairness to modern parent, Bush senior could rely on a code of conduct associated with his social class. I don't know whether that's true today for the "patrician" class, and it never was true for any other social class.

khesanh0802 said...

Laslo Spatula is hot today!

Ann Althouse said...

Dress with vulva pattern.

Perfect!

Michael K said...

"Just to be fair, lesbians can do this, too."

Nobody knows because research on gay parenting cannot be done except as a celebration of gay rights.

The other consideration in the Bush v Bush story is that the son was respectful of his father and such a look was enough to intimidate him. That would be unusual today.

Conserve Liberty said...


In fairness to modern parent, Bush senior could rely on a code of conduct associated with his social class. I don't know whether that's true today for the "patrician" class, and it never was true for any other social class.


Most insightful comment I've read on this blog in many, many years.

Beldar said...

This is indeed the most effective and wonderful form of parental discipline, but it only works when there's a very stable platform of love, trust, and history to underlie it. You can't just suddenly switch into this mode of parenting at arbitrary times or when the kid hits age 13.

Beldar said...

And FWIW, I was reared about 60 miles from where Poppy & Barbara were bringing up George and his siblings. My dad was a contemporary of George H.W. Bush's, and they both served as U.S. Navy Reserve officers in the Pacific Theater; Bush was shot down preparing for the Iwo Jima invasion into which my dad's troopship delivered reinforcements. But my dad was a middle-class merchant and the son of a school-teacher, no product of Yale and no senator's son himself — a "patrician" only if one limited one's horizons to the flat ones of Dawson County, and then only if you ignored the doctors and richest farmers who lived in the nicer part of town.

Yet this is exactly the kind of discipline my father practiced on me and my siblings.

I don't think this is limited to a particular social or economic class at all, and in fact I reject that notion.

pm317 said...

Yet, it only took another two decades for the Bush junior to get disciplined and receive Bush elder's silently delivered expectations. Wasn't Bush Junior 40 years old when he finally quit drinking? Bush Jr and Obama are two accidental presidents (there may be more) -- they don't deserve the office they held/hold.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Step 1: Have a father around.

Anonymous said...

As Dr. Johnson almost said, the prospect of being cut out of a rich daddy's will concentrates the mind wonderfully.

Big Mike said...

@Beldar, fair enough.

mikee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carl Pham said...

I think most parents don't realize how different human beings are, even as children, and that one might respond very well to wordless expectations while another might need a smack on the ass.

It's like all our uniqueness -- leading to different motivational structures, preferences, and effective relationships -- springs into existence poof at age 18, but right up until that point, anyone can just follow some protocol with the little machines and everything will work out fine.

Jason said...

...

paminwi said...

All my father had to say was "I am disappointed in you" and that made my behavior change quite quickly. One time I actually asked to be spanked because "spanking doesn't hurt as long". The answer was "no".

Skeptical Voter said...

One of my law school classmates was the son of a very successful surgeon. Dinners at their house were "formal".

One day when my classmate was 14 years old or so, he pushed the power window button in the family car (this was in the late 50's when power windows were relatively rare) and somehow managed to trap his father's hand between the top of the window glass and the door frame.

When "Rob" came down to dinner that night, he found that his napkin ring and napkin were not on the family dinner table. Guess he was banished to eat with the "help" that night.