A father sometimes knows his son better than his son knows himself. Occasionally — but rarely — he knows him better than the boy’s mother. Parental conversations leading to decisions about a troubled child’s welfare are private. But the outcomes of such decisions sometimes become a matter of public record.
Imagine, for instance, a conversation between Fred and Mary Anne about their difficult son whose behavior at school was bringing shame to the family name. Mary Anne, a Scottish-born immigrant raised in a small fishing village on the Outer Hebrides’ Isle of Lewis, was aghast at her son’s rude behavior.
A product of her Scottish Presbyterian heritage, Mary Anne had a high sense of right and wrong, and a low sense of human nature — and of the British crown. “Fred,” she said, “I’m a Scot. We don’t like the Queen! Donald thinks he’s a king! I don’t like that! I didn’t raise my son to be a Brit, let alone a monarch!”
“Mary Anne,” said Fred, “it is troubling and he’s troubled. He needs discipline. He needs boundaries. If we don’t act soon, he’ll be sent off to reform school by the end of the year.”
“Fred, if your strict discipline here at home hasn’t reformed him,” said Mary Anne, ”a reform school won’t do any better. I think we need to think outside the box. I can’t take it anymore. I’m tired of his insults, and the faces he makes. He makes fun of my work with kids who have cerebral palsy and adults with disabilities. They’re not ‘crips’ and ‘morons’! And I’m not ‘illegal’. He thinks he’s the Queen! If you don’t agree with him, you’re just a Scot from the Outer Hebrides, a chamber maid working in his palace.”
“Well, dear, we haveto remember that you were working as a maid when we met at the dance. Donald knows right where to get you. He knows your Achilles heel. He’s taken that ability with him to school and that’s what’s getting him in trouble: finding people’s sore points, their weaknesses, calling them names. The only times he responds to my discipline is when I call him a name.”
“Like what, Fred? I can’t hear your conversations from the kitchen.”
“I hesitate to tell you. I don’t want to hurt your feelings more than he’s already hurt them. I’ve tried different names. Some work. Some don’t. We’re Americans now. America won World War II. We beat the Axis powers. I thought calling him ‘Adolf’ or ‘Benedetto’ might get to him, but he didn’t take it as an insult. He took it as a compliment. He’s a chip off the old block. He likes being strong like Hitler and Mussolini. But . . . I’m sorry, dear, but it’s true — he hates it when I call him ‘Scottie’! He thinks Scots are sissies — crossdressers, guys running around in tartan skirts and knee socks. Sorry to say, dear, Donald’s not proud to be a MacLeod.”
“That breaks my heart, Fred! I know he doesn’t respect his heritage. He doesn’t respect me. He treats me like dirt. He treats me the same way he treats girls and bullies boys who are vulnerable at school.
“There’s only one answer I can see, Mary Anne. A military academy. I put in a call to the Superintendent New York Military Academy this morning. He’s agreed to take him on probation on condition that we not interfere with their discipline. We can visit once a month on the weekend and take him to church.”
“He doesn’t like church, Fred. He hated confirmation class. He says church is for losers.”
“I know. We won’t take him back to First Pres. Jamaica is changing. All our neighbors are leaving First Pres. I’ll drive him into Manhattan to hear Norman Vincent Peale. We’re dealing with some hard facts, Mary Anne. So is Donald. He needs some positive thinking. Like Dr. Peale says, ‘Any fact facing us is not as important as our attitude toward it, for that determines our success or failure. The way you think about a fact may defeat you before you do anything about it. You are overcome by the fact because you think you
“Norman Vincent Peale is President Eisenhower’s favorite preacher, Mary. Who knows? If someone like Donald learns to face facts by thinking positively about himself, he could become president.”
“God forbid, Fred! How could we have raised a son like that?”
Years later, the son returned to Scotland. Over dinner he paid tribute to his mother at the Turnberry Hotel of his Turnberry Golf Club.
- Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, July 11, 2018.