Facing Down a Drill Sergeant Dad
By Jordan Riak, December 6, 2001

One of the prospective buyers for the old Winnebago I had advertised for sale was a couple with two small children -- an infant and a boy of about 6 years. The dad was skilled in the building trades, and his plan was to pack his family in an RV and travel around the country, finding work where it was available. Thus, as he explained it to me, he'd mix earning a living with a bit of adventure. "I like to keep moving," he said, "and there's always plenty of work."

Immediately upon their arrival, I sensed there would be trouble. The dad's treatment of the boy was abominable. He didn't talk; he commanded. He shouted orders and warnings in a tone of voice that would scare a marine. "Michael! Get over here! Now I said! Do you hear me? Stand right here and don't you move, or you're gonna get it. I'm not telling you again." Clearly, the father wanted his son to be on his best behavior, but the boy seemed not to hear a word his father was saying. Curious and full of energy, he only wanted to break free and inspect everything. I pointed the parents to the Winnebago and told them to take their time. I then went into the house to get my weapon of choice for such occasions: the booklet Plain Talk About Spanking.

I returned and handed the man two booklets. "Here's something I think might be useful to you. You can have these. One for you, one for the missus." He accepted the booklets, and I left him alone. As I walked to the front of the property, I saw the mom inside the Winnebago inspecting the equipment. I glanced back and saw the man reading one of the booklets

A short while later--probably no more than 5 minutes--I returned. I felt nervous, not sure how the father would react to having his private affairs criticized by a total stranger. One never knows. As I approached, he looked straight at me with a desperate, pleading expression. It was as though I possessed some vital secret that he needed to learn. "But how can I make that boy listen to me?" he asked.

Here's what I told him:

"Look at it this way. Think about all the time in Michael's short lifetime that he has been on the receiving end of hollering, ordering, threats and spankings. Sure, he doesn't listen to you. To him, you're like the neighborhood barking dog that never shuts up. He just blocks out the noise. We all do that. It's normal. Now think about how little time you've spent listening to Michael. Is that fair? If you don't listen to him, why should he listen to you? Just because you're bigger? Try to remember this one thing--I call it the Golden Rule of Management: You get what you give; if you don't give it, don't expect to get it.

"Here's a practical suggestion for getting Michael to start listening to you. It might not work immediately, but if you keep at it, I think it will. The next time Michael is talking, this is what I want you to do. Listen. Don't say a word. Crouch down to his level so he faces you eye to eye, and keep listening until he has finished. Give this a rest (I pinched my lips together with two fingers), and put this to work (I cupped my ear with my hand). And when he is finished talking, you answer in a way to show him you've heard what he said. You're the daddy. You're the model. You want Michael to be a listener? Then you show him how to be a listener. And remember what I said about the Golden Rule of Management. It works."

About a week later, my wife received a call from the drill sergeant dad. She told him she was sorry, but the RV had been sold. He told her he was not calling about that -- he had already decided on something else. He said, "please tell your husband, thanks from the traveling carpenter. I took his advice and there's been a lot less shouting around this place lately."

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