Henry Kissinger, Father

I cut my earliest political and social teeth during the latter Vietnam and Watergate years.  Wrestling with those reliable old Russians – and arguing with the North Vietnamese – was Henry Kissinger.  He cut an amazingly long shadow for a guy the size of Golem and his occasional commentaries today are still run in major publications.

But I was taken aback recently to realize that Henry was secretly giving me lessons in disciplining future children during all those years.  Henry pursued diplomatic strategies that are actually usable with the kids, especially when they’re being particularly recalcitrant.  I now ask myself, what would Henry do?  Here are three of his favorites that I regularly employ.

Trust but verify.  This trite little phrase was used by Henry to highlight his plan for dealing with the Soviet Union about missile reduction.  It’s also effective in teaching little kids about truth-telling.

                Dad:  If you want to watch a little TV before bedtime, go brush your teeth.

                Junior:  Okay, Dad.

                Dad (After watching Junior run past in 10 seconds):  Did you brush like I asked?

                Junior (heading for the sofa):  Sure, yeah.

                Dad:  Really?  Are you sure?

                Junior:  Yeah, Dad.  Uh-huh.

                Dad:  So…okay, son.

Henry would follow through a bit more than Dad.

                Henry:  If you want to watch a little TV before bedtime, go brush your teeth.

                Junior:  Okay, Henry.

                Henry (after watching Junior run past in 10 seconds):  Did you brush as I requested?

                Junior (heading for the sofa):  Sure, yeah.

                Henry:  Really?  Are you zhure?

                Junior:  Yeah, Henry.  Uh-huh.

                Henry:  Zo…iff I zend in a team of Army inzhpectors, they vill find a vet brush und zhpit in ze zink?

J                unior:  Uh…lemme check.  Oh yeah, I forgot.  Be right back!

Follow this principle from an early stage and he’ll learn to be truthful with you – or at least improve his ability to create stage scenery.

Bomb them back to the negotiating table.  As they age, they’ll sometimes not want to  talk to you and will adopt various ruses to avoid it.  These include the thousand-yard stare, the phantom phone-ring, the oops, gotta study-big test!, or the patented DeNiro you talkin’ to me?  Don’t let the frustration thwart you, because you still have the leverage:  cash, car keys and control of the cell-phone’s family plan.

                Dad:  Honey, we need to talk about the upcoming deadline. 

                Honey:  (engages in the stare, wondering if Dad realizes that one nostril is too big).

                Dad:  Honey, about the deadline…

                Honey:  Wait a sec, Dad, I think the phone’s ringing.

                Dad:  Hey!  (chasing her upstairs)  The deadline is almost here!

                Honey:  I’m coming, I’m coming!  (Dad’s note:  Do you think that they actually hear her?)

Here’s how Henry would approach the situation.

                Henry:  Ve need to discuss your approaching deadline.

                Honey:  (engages in the stare, wondering if Henry realizes that his one nostril is twice as big as both of yours combined).

                Henry:  Iff you do not talk to me now, you vill loose your cellphone prifileges.

                Honey:  So about that deadline…

See how Henry sets the stage with no loving nickname?  He’s Henry and he means business, dammit!  He refuses the dodge and goes right to the bomb.  BOOM!  And she’s back to the table.

Mutual Assured Destruction

This tactic assumes that you have a track record of following through with your consequences.  Do you think that Henry would have a problem with his kid?  He had the Air Force plaster the Ho Chi Minh trail just to show the North Vietnamese negotiators that he preferred the Waterford goblets to the standard Paris hotel water glasses.  Likewise, did you ever hear of Harry Truman having a problem with his only child, Margaret?  He said he would use the A-bomb and he did.  Twice.  I bet Margaret’s behavior seriously improved after Nagasaki.

Likewise, use it sparingly and only for important situations. 

                Dad:  Son, this family shot really means something to your mom, so none of that “Rock-on” posing crap for the photo.  Okay?

                Son:  Aw, Da-a-d.  It’s only a picture, okay?

                Dad:  I’m serious.  Show some respect to your mother, alright?  It’s important to her.

                Son:  Jee-e-z, Dad.  Come on.  What do you think I am?

                Dad:  Alright, son.  Just remember…

                Photographer:  Everyone ready?  Here it comes…say “cheese”!

                Son:  Rawck on! (deedle-deedle-deedle).

                Dad:  UURRGHHHH!!!!  BILLY!!!!

Here’s how Henry would handle it with the “Mutual Assured Destruction” technique.

                Henry:  Villiam, your mother zinks zis photo iss important.  None of the typical shtuff, Ja?

                Son:  Aw, Henry.  It’s only a picture, okay?

                Henry:  I am fery zerious now.  Zhow zome reshpect to your mother, Ja?

                Son:  Jee-e-z, Henry.  Come on.  What do you think I am?

                Henry:  Sehr gute.  Just remember…I can permunently crazh your vebsite on Myzhpace.  Ja?

                Photographer:  Everyone ready?  Here it comes…say “cheese”!

                Son:  Cheese!

                Henry:  Zank you, Villie.

Despite having a lot of babes in his prime years – seriously – Henry didn’t have any babies.  And that’s a shame since he probably would’ve been an effective father.  I’m just glad that he wasn’t mine, Ja?