Just in time for the season of family drama, a British family has elevated the notion of airing a dirty laundry to new heights and also kicked off an unexpected debate about parental honesty.
In an e-mail published in national newspapers there last week, a retired Royal Navy officer outlined his extreme disappointment with his three adult children.
He starts out:
With last evening’s crop of whinges and tidings of more rotten news for which you seem to treat your mother like a cess-pit, I feel it is time to come off my perch.
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.
He then goes on to bemoan the fact that his children have offered him so little fodder for bragging.
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. ... I can now tell you that I for one, and I sense Mum feels the same, have had enough of being forced to live through the never-ending bad dream of our children’s underachievement and domestic ineptitudes.
He signs off with: “I am bitterly, bitterly disappointed. Dad”
The Daily Mail first published the letter, at the behest of the author’s eldest daughter (who is trying to publicize a self-help book she is working on) and the permission of the father.
The children, all between 35 and 40, have had a mixed reaction. One daughter remains on good terms with her father and has defended his note. A younger brother and sister have not spoken to him since the letter was sent in February.
The public, reaction, however, has been more uniform.
It’s been lopsided in favor of the dad. Comments under the newspaper stories have praised the father’s old-school harshness. A Telegraph writer wrote she has been inundated by “three cheers for the dad who tells it like it is!” e-mails.
The whole episode is reminiscent of the gun-toting dad on this side of the pond, who on YouTube last February berated his teenage daughter for an outrageously disrespectful Facebook post he discovered. Tommy Jordan shot up her computer for more than 35 million to see witness.
Many responded to that, too, with a “you tell her” attitude.
In the British case, the press have allowed for — well, clamored for — follow-ups. So the father has defended himself, saying the e-mail was a protective measure for his grandchildren, “What I was saying to my children was that if they got their ducks in a row, their children would be getting a better start. As a father and a grandfather, don’t you have a duty to do that? I think you do. I don’t like living with the repercussions of this and it makes you very sad that your children hate you. But life is hard.”
He went on, “My message to other parents who feel as I do is that you have a social responsibility to say your piece. I can remember my father saying things to me that I didn’t like to hear.”
Meanwhile his son, tracked down by reporters on the street, said in response to his dad, “Sorry, but you made me.”
The eldest daughter, who remains close with her father, said the e-mail was a good kick she might have needed. At the same time, she told the Telegraph that she spent “many years underperforming” because her father’s “uncompromising” stance left her without confidence.
I understand that many parents think their children are overindulged and in need of a reality check. But is this sort of public discipline ever productive? Or just entertaining for most and damaging for a few?