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Terry McLaughlin: Thanks to all the Strict Dads

My father was an immigrant. He became a naturalized US Citizen at the age of 21. While he loved and celebrated the country of his birth, he was an American, first, last and always.

My father was one of the most fiercely patriotic men I ever knew — in retirement he was often a speaker at naturalization ceremonies in Southern California. He had memorized sections of the Declaration of Independence and patriotic poems, which he would often recite at these ceremonies with great pride. I grew up hearing these stirring messages, and learning all the words to every patriotic American song.

As a kid, I knew there were “strict” dads and “cool” dads. Cool Dad wanted to be your best friend. He gave you everything you wanted, whether you earned it or not. There were few consequences to your bad behavior — in fact, at times Cool Dad would join right in with you. Cool Dad was the one who would serve alcohol to a party full of minors because “at least he would know you were safe.” Cool Dad would buy a new car for your 16th birthday, even if you lacked the discipline and good judgment to handle it.



My dad was one of the Strict Dads. He had rules, and my sisters and I had to abide by them. He had expectations for us, and he taught us that poor decisions had consequences. He understood the difference between “wants” and “needs,” and expected us to earn those things we merely wanted. Our family was of modest means, and we understood that we must live within those means. Debt was a dirty word — always to be avoided. It was understood that we would get a college education and that we would also most likely have to pay for that education, and that earning good grades could lead to scholarships. My dad wanted us to have the opportunities that his adopted country had to offer. He encouraged us to be independent, to have jobs at an early age, and to be able to stand on our own two feet. In thinking about my dad’s parenting style, I ponder what kind of leadership we want in our county, our state, and our country. Do we want a Cool Dad or do we want a Strict Dad (or Mom)?

Sadly, I believe the country my father loved so much during his lifetime has suffered dearly from the consequences of Cool Dad leadership.

Do we want a Cool Dad that gives us everything we think or say we want, regardless of our actual needs or his ability to pay for those things? Do we want a Cool Dad who makes sure that we are never offended, nor our feelings hurt by opposing ideas, words, or deeds; that we are protected from the consequences of our bad decisions?




Do we want a Cool Dad that accepts and validates all of our excuses for our failures and bad behavior? Do we want a Cool Dad that is willing to spend money he does not have in order to promise us free college, free healthcare, free cell phones, free everything, ultimately leaving us to pay the bills for those promises?

Or do we want a Strict Dad — one that helps us see that our actions have consequences, and that we can choose to control those outcomes? One that encourages us, teaches us, gives us the tools we need to succeed, and then sets us loose with the power and autonomy to be independent thinkers, to make decisions about our own lives, to make it in business or in life on our own merits, hard work, and tenacity? One that allows us the satisfaction of being able to give back to our communities through the generosity of our own hearts? We usually don’t want to hear what Strict Dad has to say, because as the adult in the room, he often has to make unpopular decisions.

Strict Dad points out our financial limitations, ethical concerns, risks and possible consequences, but ultimately he is the guide that helps us find our own path to fulfillment.

As a kid, everyone wished their dad was a Cool Dad. Who wouldn’t want a Cool Dad? But as I got older I saw the kids of the Cool Dads crash those cars, only to have them replaced almost immediately with new ones. I saw them do poorly in school, only to have the blame placed on their teachers. I often saw them abusing drugs and alcohol, with sad outcomes for their families.

As Father’s Day approaches, my mind returns to the qualities my father embodied and the values by which he lived. Sadly, I believe the country my father loved so much during his lifetime has suffered dearly from the consequences of Cool Dad leadership. Human nature will always draw us toward Cool Dad, and prod us to complain, criticize, and bemoan the fact that Strict Dad is, well, strict.

But as mature adults, we see the wisdom of Strict Dad and begin to understand that no one would willingly choose the much more demanding, difficult, and unpopular role of Strict Dad unless he cared deeply about the health, happiness, prosperity, success, and well-being of those for whom he was responsible. Just as happens within our families, perhaps the outcomes for our citizens would improve dramatically with a Strict Dad at the helm.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Thank You for being a Strict Dad — now I understand just how cool you really were.

Terry McLaughlin, who lives in Nevada City, writes a twice monthly column for The Union. Write to her at terrymclaughlin2016@gmail.com.


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