I had a bad first marriage. I think the only saving grace was that we never made an effort to have children. I always told people the reason I did not have kids was because, I was a selfish bastard and I did not want the headaches and the heartaches.
Well life changes and people mature, even me I guess. I got married to a wonderful woman named Yvonne and her 9 year old son Brett. Brett and I hit it off from the very beginning. He did not want to do anything except hang out with me. Today he is eighteen and just bought a car that he brought home for the first time tonight. He will be graduating soon, and while I joke about his graduation being my crossing the finish line, I will always be there for him. People used to ask me do you love Brett as if he were your own son. I for a long time answered, “I don’t know”. Today I would say this. “I don’t have any of my own kids, but I wouldn’t love Brett any more if he were my blood.” If I were put in a position, to trade my life for his, I would not even blink.
That said; Things were not always so hunky-dory. It was a long, long, long road.
Brett had behavioral issues at school. This was largely due to a condition he has. It had gone unchecked for nine years. Yvonne is a superstar mom. Brett’s Dad is a great guy. This is no reflection on them as parents. Brett just needed that little something special to get his attention. It was during this time that I learned that there was yet another thing that I was awesome at. I discovered that I was a savant of creative, and attention getting disciplinary methods. I had only a few rules:
DON’T FORGET!! Your Mother Happens to be My Wife.
One day Yvonne worked her fingers to the bone creating a world class meal. For or five courses, and it was planned. She asked me early on this Saturday not to eat to much because she had a big dinner planned. Later that day we sat down to eat. Brett had been a little wound up but we made it to the dinner table. I t was a wonderful meal. It was exquisite. Halfway through dinner, Brett looked around a little bit and then leaned over to one side and then cranked out a fart that sounded like a chain saw that I thought would never run out of power.
Yvonne was so disappointed that she began to get up and leave. I put my hand on her arm and said in a gentle voice “No Babe, I can fix this.” I looked over at Brett who was still laughing and with a single facial expression from me, his glee turned to pee. I calmly said
“Brett, stand up please” he did. I then said “Pick up your plate and your drink.” He did. I then slid open the patio door and said “Go on outside and finish your dinner.” It was raining and very cold. He thought I might be joking. I told him as I pointed at my own face ”Brett, do you see this? This is my no nonsense face. That means I am not kidding, so for the last time bring your plate, your cup and your ass, out on the patio under the roof. Animals eat outside. You are an animal. Go join the rest of the animals.” And dinner was saved. Brett finished and went straight to bed.
The next morning he came down to eat breakfast. I was already up. He said “Good morning Tom”. I said “Good morning”. He poured himself a bowl of cereal and then sat down at the table. I said “Brett go eat that outside” he couldn’t believe it. He said well then I just won’t eat then. I said “Oh Brett that is so cute. You think I am your mother and you are implementing a hunger strike. Here is the thing. I don’t have any requirement that you eat. I do however have a requirement that if you do eat, you will be doing it outdoors with the rest of the animals.” He said “I don’t appreciate you calling me an animal.” I said “well that is okay too, because your gratitude is also not required.” Three days he ate outside, and from then on we never had a problem with Brett’s table manners.
So what changed? One thing changed parents and one thing only. I got Brett’s attention where no one else ever did. That is all.
“That which you say; That you must also do”
One time Brett promised his mom that he cleaned his shit-pit of a room on Saturday afternoon when he got up instead of Friday after school which was originally agreed upon. I was at work in my managers office joking around , and I got a call on Saturday afternoon about an hour before I was to go home. It was Yvonne. Brett was giving her trouble about not wanting to clean his room. I got into character and then I slowly and angrily said “Put….Him…..On!”
There was a silence and then Brett in a very humble and scared voice said “Hello” Now before I tell you what I said I hope all of you remember the movie “Tombstone” if you haven’t you really would be doing yourself a favor, if you were to watch it and then come back. For those of you who have seen it, I said:
“WELL YOU CALLED DOWN THE THUNDER AND NOW YOU GOT IT. YOUR MOTHER TOLD YOU TO MOVE AND THAT IS NOT ENOUGH I GUESS. WELL NOW I’M COMING, AND HELL’S COMING WITH YOU HEAR? HELL’S COMING WITH ME!”
Parents, here is the important thing that happened in this scenario. If you will note; I did not tell Brett to go clean his room. I did not even tell Brett to listen to his mother, and I also did not tell him to be cutting the grass as I pulled into the driveway only one hour after our conversation, but he was. So why did he do all those things? I got his attention; plain and simple.
Yes I am
Brett at one point was having a lot of problems. His grades, behavior, all of it had tanked. I had taken away everything that made him happy.
WAIT!! Now I want to address something that I have heard people say. Maybe you have heard it too. “Don’t take everything away because then you won’t have anything left” To these people I say “BULL……..SHIT”
As human beings we like to have fun. We like to do things we enjoy. I took away Brett’s TV, music, games, computer, and his IPOD. Does that now mean since I have taken everything away that I am now a helpless disciplinarian? Have I prepared my limbs to wear the shackles of parental purgatory? SHIT NO. I am Tom Nardone, and I am sovereign. All you have to do is go in the other direction. Yes I took away all that is good. Now I start adding things that are shitty. Oh I don’t know how about extra work. At this point you really needed to dial this kid in.
Two critical things about the extra chores; It must be a shitty Job that no one would ever want to do, and it MUST be a pointless job where there will be no feeling of accomplishment when it is over. The shitty job part is easy to get, I mean, it is punishment. I feel I need to explain the second part.
If you allow your punishment to become something that your child in so doing, feels good about, they will want to do more things to avoid dealing with the punishment. They will embrace that sense of accomplishment and enjoy their time being grounded. That simply will not do. Let me give you an example.
Brett smarted off to his mother on the way to bed one night and I said “Brett! We will discuss the consequences of that tomorrow morning.” He rolled his eyes. Yah I’m not kidding. I am Tom Nardone, and he rolled his eyes. I said “Brett is there a problem?” He said “No, but you don’t have anything left to take away.” When he said that I smiled so big and then his smile faded.
The next morning at 8:00am, Brett got up and ate breakfast. I took him outside where I had the shovel ready to go. I spray painted a Five foot circle on each side of the yard. I told Brett he needed to dig both holes three feet deep. He acted like it was no big deal. I have to say he really did work his ass off. Four hours later he came in and said he was done. I went out to inspect. I was impressed. I said OK, get some water and take a rest for fifteen minutes. He said Tom what are the holes for. I said “Ask me after your break.”
Fifteen minutes later, “OK Brett, now I need you to fill the holes in. I need all this dirt in that hole over there, and all of that dirt in this hole right here. When that is complete you will be finished.” Brett was angry. He said “Tom why did I bother digging these holes, and why do we have to switch the dirt? This whole thing, make no sense.” I said “Brett, when you are finished you can come in and take a shower and then I will explain everything.”
Brett finished, took a shower , and came downstairs. I explained to him in a calm voice that the things he is told to do, are not required to make sense to him. His inability to understand the importance of something is not a blank check to make his own decision. I explained that the purpose of him digging those holes was to illustrate to him that when I tell him to do something, he is to do it, whether it is stupid or not. He will do what I say, simply because I have said it. This was not an easy thing to put him through but in the end he understood. He did hug me before he went up to his bed that night.
I am also the father that took Brett to his first Rock Concert. I am the father that picked Brett up from school when he was sick. I am the father that spent countless hours playing video games with him. I am the father who when I made a mistake I would go into Brett’s room and sometimes while crying, tell him I was wrong, and that I was sorry, and he forgave me every time, and sent me out with a hug.
I am proud to say that I am also the father who will watch Brett graduate from High School in a few weeks. I am so proud of the man that kid has become.
I called this article “I Was a Kick-ass Father”, but I never had to kick any ass. Brett’s own
father told me to feel free to do it if I needed to. Yvonne also had no problem with my doing this. I never did. I am not anti-ass whipping. You do whatever you need to do to get your kids attention. So let me be clear. If that ass is misbehaving and you can’t get that ass’s attention, by all means, you whip that ass. I guess I saw that as a last resort, and managed to avoid it.
Brett is and always will be, my best friend. Brett knows today that it was not easy to do the things I had to do, and he
understands the necessity of those things. He has no resentment. He knows it would have been easier for me to just do nothing.
Yvonne and Brett gave me something I never would have had without them. I got to experience what it was to be a father. I had just accepted that I would spend the rest of my life wondering about what kind of father I would have been. I would never know if I had what it took to be a father. Yvonne and Brett gave all of that to me. They are my heart, and they are my family. They are my world.
I am Tom Nardone and you are welcome.
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