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September 07, 2007
Me on Wall Street

Check out my latest essay in The Wall Street Journal, which includes, among other things, an homage to Thomas Sowell, a swipe at utopian parenting, and proof that Dr. Spock was in favor of, as the famed childrearing expert Barney Fife called it, "bud nipping."

Posted by Woodlief on September 07, 2007 at 06:55 AM


Shouldn't that be "Dr. Woodlief"? ;)

Anyway, congratulations on another WSJ column.

I worked as a counselor/songleader at a Jewish overnight camp one summer (1985, but who's counting, right?) and I will never forget the first thing the camp director told us at the staff orientation.

Some people will tell you that there's no such thing as a bad kid. I'm here to tell you they're wrong.

Words of wisdom to live by -- some people are just bad, and many if not most of them begin to be bad from a very early age. Most, thankfully, are capable of being civilized, however.

One criticism of your column: your usual balance of curmudgeonhood and sweet lovinghood (sorry about the made-up words; it's before 9:00 am and it's the best I can do) that infuses the vast majority of your writing is missing from this piece. Someone who didn't know you could read this WSJ piece and think you really don't love your kids, which is a real shame, because anyone who has read virtually anything else you have written would know immediately how wrong that is. Best,

-- Joel

Posted by: Joel at September 7, 2007 7:52 AM

Thanks for a great essay. You wrote "education expert Stephanie Marshall writes exuberantly that 'the fundamental purpose of schooling is to liberate the goodness and genius of children.'" This is a great quote, summing up succinctly the Utopian view. From what is schooling, as she sees it, liberating this goodness and genius? My fear is that she has in mind it is tradition and parents enslaved to it.

Anyway, I thought it was pitch perfect. Peace

Posted by: Ron C. at September 7, 2007 11:14 AM

Hear, Hear!

Fantastic essay!

Posted by: PJ at September 7, 2007 12:19 PM

Loved your WSJ column. I didn't get the impression that you did not love your sons (sorry about the double negative there) but I am SO THANKFUL that there are apparently still some sane parents out there who realize that one of the jobs of a parent is to provide structure and not just to help "self-actualize" their whelp. (Come to think of it, for years, the US Army has been offering to help people be all that they can be.) Encouragement is fine, but a parent's job is to parent, not to be an EST coach.

Oh, and to get kids used to the idea that life is not always fair.

As various movies have said, "Life IS pain, princess. Get used to it."

Posted by: Shirley at September 7, 2007 12:25 PM

I enjoyed your article very much. The fact that you take the hard road of parenting demonstrates your true love for kids. What a relief to know that I'm not alone! My daughter's only in 1st grade (public school) and the "we need to be fair" attitude has already infiltrated the home. My 2 year-old son uses "not fair" like a cuss word. Thanks for writing.

Posted by: Nichole at September 7, 2007 1:06 PM

It takes real love to be the father and not the buddy. His children are blessed by Tony as he shows them strength and true caring by the limits he sets.

I like the banning of the 4-letter "f" word. While we don't ban it, my wife and I make the little buggers know that we don't care for the word and our decisions stand regardless of the fairness doctrine. Gary Chapman gave a few talks at my church last month, and at one point he asked the audience what was one of the first things children learn to say. While I heard murmurs of "dada" or "mama" I said "not fair" under my breath, and that was the answer he was looking for.

Since he's still a ward-of-the-state, our 5 y.o. son is being forced into going to public school. Once we adopt him (in a year?) we will be homeschooling him. While we lobbied hard to have him homeschooled, it ended up being some state employees watching out for other state employees.

Posted by: Marc V at September 7, 2007 2:21 PM

I enjoy reading your columns in the WSJ and pass them along to my young adult children. Keep up the good work! and God bless you as you raise your 4 boys :-)
Parenting is NOT for cowards (I think that's the name of a book?)

Posted by: Janet Anderson at September 7, 2007 5:26 PM

I'm not sure of my favorite parts in this essay, there are so many. It's nice to I'm not the last parent to tell my kids to "Get over it." Having recently decided to homeschool my twin girls, I keep reading more articles and essays to bolster my sometimes weak-kneed confidence in the decision. Thanks for giving me a light-hearted but much-appreciated boost. And tell your wife I haven't had an uninterrupted trip to the bathroom for 5 years, either.

Posted by: Theresa F at September 7, 2007 8:29 PM

Thanks Mr. Tony.
I've been lurking here for years. Just had to say, great essay.

Posted by: daddyquatro at September 8, 2007 11:41 PM

Hey Judge Smails, the world needs ditch diggers too? That job defines them to you? It's such a surprise that you don't work in the school system!
It's nice that your controlling personality is able to lord over your four homeskoold boys (and presumably your wife), but what about when these socially-awkward, rule-bound boys enter a world that doesn't know the rules? And heavens, become attracted to young women (or men, or is that not permitted?) who don't conform to the "Woodlief protocol?"
I'm still not sure if the WSJ essay was written as a satire.
- Mark

Posted by: Mark at September 9, 2007 11:18 AM

I suppose there are worse things than becoming a ditch digger, Mark. They could end up boorish, small-minded twits who haven't the good grace to behave themselves when leaving a note on someone's website.

Posted by: Tony at September 9, 2007 8:15 PM

Hobbes on Parenting! I love it!
Father=Leviathan, sweet!

The second law of Thermodynamics is played out in our household of kids every day. Someone has to step in and control the entropy, or the chaos would spread like cancer. Starting with my sons bedroom. In fact, I think that's where entropy originated from; teenage boys bedrooms... :-)

Posted by: JG at September 10, 2007 10:51 PM


Thanks for putting Mark in his place.

My saying to my first and second grade girls, which they now say faster than me, "Hey, life's not fair, GET OVER IT!"

AS usual, I enjoyed your essay.


Posted by: Frank Titus at September 11, 2007 2:59 PM

Tony is a sad case indeed. Tony shouldn't use his children to serve his psychological needs. There are many wonderful ways to raise children firmly but with respect and dignity. Children needs parents, not tyrants imposing their world view on their children.

I expect that once Tony experiences some genuine tragedy in his life (how about the death of a 9 year old son from brain cancer) he will then be able to let go of his obsession for control and help his children develop the independence necessary to handle challenges with grace and calm but, most importantly, enjoy the goodness of simply being alive.

Posted by: Greg at September 13, 2007 1:58 AM

Thanks Greg. I suppose I just haven't suffered enough to have your level of transcendent wisdom.

Posted by: Tony at September 13, 2007 1:05 PM

Proverbs 3:12
Because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.

Although I am sure Tony is more than capable of defending himself, I feel compelled to throw in my lot with him nevertheless. Since when have love and discipline become mutually exclusive? Why is defining acceptable boundaries for a child necessarily mean serving one’s psychological needs for control? To be sure, having spent enough time here reading many of Tony’s fine essays, I doubt he is some power crazed autocrat who aspires to be the next Kim Jong-il. My blood boils when I see people brand anyone who has the moral fortitude to teach his children right from wrong as “tyrants imposing their world view on their children”. I am tired of those who espouse unconstrained permissiveness and are quick to relinquish their parental responsibilities in the name of “enlightened”, “progressive” parenting. Let’s not discipline our children lest we impede their creativity. Let’s not measure their academic performance with tests and grades lest we damage their sensibility. Let’s not challenge them to do good and do well because, after all, who are we to tell our children what is good? Let’s all be like Dustin Hoffman’s character in Meet the Fockers, who feels necessary to celebrate Gaylord’s near last place finish with a ribbon lest it be harmful to a child’s self esteem.

I first came across this website after I read Tony’s wonderful article in WSJ about Father’s Day. As a father of a 2-year old boy (with another child due to arrive in 7 months), I admire Tony for his eloquence in articulating his keen intellect and his love for his family and fellow mankind, not to mention his faith and sense of humor. But above all, I look to Tony as an example of the kind of father I try to emulate.

Keep up the courageous work, Tony. I only wish I have your moral steadfastness and your blessed gift as a writer. God bless you, Mrs. Tony, the boys, and Caroline. It takes a real man with real faith and strength to let go of Caroline to God.

Posted by: Joe at September 13, 2007 7:02 PM

Message to Greg: be very careful when making assumptions about someone else's tragedy, or lack thereof. We really don't know who's been through what in this life, do we?

The boys' and Caroline's Greataunt "Nisey"

Posted by: Denise at September 22, 2007 8:56 AM

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