My Kids Take Down “World’s Strictest Parents”

Have you seen this television show on CMT?  “World’s Strictest Parents”?  Let me break it down for you.  One male and one female teenager who are undisciplined, foul-mouthed, lawless, many times violent, occasionally substance-addicted, narcissistic, and always horrible are sent to live with a real family.  Let me clarify, a militaristic, Orwellian, Mormanesque family on their compound in rural Idaho.  It’s usually a working ranch with quiet, obedient kids who don’t wear make-up, don’t have cool haircuts, don’t attend rock concerts, and have the personalities of unflavored yogurt.

Enter the Flannery’s.  I have three teenagers and my wife of  22 years and I are quite probably the least strict parents I have ever met.  We allow them to go on road-trips, sleepovers on school nights, rock concerts, we’re even letting our 13-year-old go to China this summer.  They can play video games, eat at 3 o’clock in the morning, play on the computer, talk on the phone, pretty much whatever.  They can speak their minds, listen to whatever music they like, choose their own friends, voice their opinions, and attend the church of their choice.  Really the only restrictions that we impose are that they keep themselves healthy and clean, and let us know where they’re at, you know check in.  We ask that they make school important and give it their best shot.  Also they have to work to earn the money to buy their own stylized clothes, hair care products, gas money, accessories, and food when eating-out with friends.  We have open dialogue with them in which we praise their accomplishments and positive behaviors and ask them to consider and think through the possible outcomes for any negative behaviors.  We set the example for them by being in love, communicating, getting out of bed and going to work, and making each day a bold and daring adventure.

I imagined a scene of “World’s Strictest Parents” featuring my oldest kids, Dylan and Brenna Flannery.  It goes something like this.

WSP:  Welcome to our family, I’m Abraham, this is my wife, Gretta, and our children, Josiah and Rebekkah.

My Kids:  Hi, it’s nice to meet you!

WSP:  First things first, give all your drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes to us now.

My Kids:  Sir, we don’t do drugs, we didn’t bring any alcohol, and we don’t smoke.

WSP:  Oh…, well then give us your cellphones.

My Kids:  Sure, here you go, Sir. (they hand over phones)

WSP:  Hmm, that was easy.  Well you’ll have chores you have to do here, shovelling, sweeping, cleaning, and washing animals.  I won’t take any bad attitudes either.  As you accomplish the chores you’ll be given privliges, if you don’t you’ll suffer the consequences.

My Kids:  No problem, Sir, whatever you say.

Brenna:  Hey Rebekkah, after we finish these chores I thought of a totally cute way to do your hair, and I can show you how to make your eyes stand out, they’re really pretty!

Dylan:  Hey Josiah, after we knock out these chores I’ll show you how to play guitar and then……..

Director:  CUT!!!!!!!!!!  THIS SHOW IS CANCELLED!!!!!!

This show is based on the premise that kids need to be broken down by discipline and tied to the mast so they grow straight.  This is ridiculous!  Kids need to feel their family unit is rock-solid.  And that they are valued as important members of that family.  They need to be listened to and loved and appreciated.  Every step of their maturity that leads to independence needs to be celebrated.  I understand a stark juxtaposition of opposites is key for a reality-television show to work but it just isn’t that way in reality.


Excerpt from “1984: My Olympic Boycott”

The next day we bought scissors and I gave Rob and Byron haircuts on the rooftop outside our third-story hotel room.  I had cut Rob’s hair before but I was surprised that Byron let me cut his.  We were all ready for change.  As I clipped the hair it just fell onto the rooftop and we left it there.  I slightly clipped Rob’s ear but it was not serious, and the cuts really looked good.  We were all spiky and we were ready to move on to new places.  Over dinner Byron suggested that we go to Paris and that sounded fine to us.  The next morning we booked three berths on a train-ferry-train trip that would take us to France.  The train would depart Victoria Station the following morning at 9:45 am.  We found a place in the neighborhood to wash our clothes called a Launderette then we walked to Hyde Park to hear maniacs rant and rave at Speaker’s Corner.  We deeply wanted to get to the European continent and were ready to leave London.  We had a mellow evening, re-packed our newly cleaned clothes, and got to bed early.  Monday morning came and we took the tube to Victoria Station and boarded a train to Dover.  At Dover we boarded a ferry and steamed across the English Channel to France.  The fog on the channel was thick but about halfway across it lifted and we saw the sun for the first time since we left Los Angeles.  My headphones pumped Jamaican dancehall music into my head; Yellowman was chanting romantic boasts to the backing of the Sagittarius Band recorded live at the 1981 Sunsplash Festival in Kingston Jamaica.  When we reached Calais we got back on a train and headed for Paris.  We had sandwiches and beer on the train.  Some trains had a dining car; this one had a food and beverage cart that went up and down the train visiting each berth.  We arrived at Gare Nord at 5:50 pm and stepped out into Paris.  My first sensation was the strong taste and smell of diesel bus exhaust.  This place was different; there was a completely different pace going on and it was uncomfortable.  We were no longer the likable Yanks who were a novelty, we were seemingly a pain in the ass to anyone we talked to or looked at.  We walked two blocks and found our way to a café to eat dinner and simply weren’t prepared to deal with this city.  The menu was confusing, the waiter was a dick, and then I had a disgusting, small, old man in a basement bathroom yell at me for not giving him money to use the restaurant’s bathroom.  It was only later that I realized that this was his full-time job, sitting underground in a filthy, dark bathroom collecting coins from the restaurant’s patrons as they needed to use what he felt was his stinking bathroom.  We decided not to stay in Paris so we finished our dinner and went straight back to the train station.  By 10 pm we were on an overnight train heading south that would arrive in the seaport town of Marseille at 7:14 am.  This was our first overnight train ride and we learned a few things.  First of all, trying to sleep on a train sucks.  There’s just not enough room to get comfortable.  Also the temperature can change on you while you’re dozing and you can wake up sweating or freezing.  The upside is that you don’t have to pay for a hotel but you also don’t get to take a shower.  Speaking of which, at about 11:30 pm a young man came into our berth.  He was tall, had long blonde hair, and spoke in a breaking voice that sounded like Peter Brady’s performance of “It’s Time to Change”.  He said his name was Haimu and he was from Algeria.  He would be getting off the train at about 2:45 am in the city of Dijon.  This guy reeked.  He obviously hadn’t showered in over a week and looked and smelled like he had walked all the way from Algiers.

Ah, I’m Living in the Future

If you would have told me 10 years ago that I’d be pulled over to the side of the road blogging from my BlackBerry as I simultaneously download a podcast I would have said, “What’s this, Soothsayer?”  But it’s true. I’m pulled over in front of the Public Library in Cynthiana, Kentucky, using their public wi-fi to download a podcast onto my iTouch as I commemorate the occasion by blogging about it on my phone. This is just the beginning too, later today I’m going to proof read, revise and then upload said blog. At that point I’ll promote the blog by posting a link to it on Twitter. I’ll use hashtags to cast my link into many different feeds and hopefully, if my content is compelling, through grass roots means, by 9:00 pm tonight this commemoration will have been read by thousands of people around the world.

I still think we’re in the Stone Age of technology and I plan to continue to learn and virtually stretch my arms out around this world and dream of how to not only share my personality with all the personalities of the Earth, but make a dollar or two.

I remain your Captain of the Ship of Dreams,

Follow me on Twitter @tomflannery1

Coachella Music Festival 2011

Over the last few weeks I’ve been fretting over the apparent malaise that seems to be resting upon and stifling American music. Okay, let me specify. I don’t mean American Classical music; the one-two punch of Ned Rorem and Phillip Glass exhausted that genre 30 years ago. And I don’t mean Top 40 American music either. That substance-less train wreck is alive and well. I’m just thankful that Top 40 and Country have finally merged, made sex, and begat American Idol. Now if WWF and NASCAR would kindly do the same, our country can get back one more modicum of its dignity.

Friends, I’m talking about Rock n’ Roll. I’m talking about American Black music interpreted and recreated by angry people of all colors, cultures, and flavors, their one common denominator being a frustrated bird flipped at the status quo and the antiquated powers-that-be.

My concerns were briefly assuaged last week when I heard the new release, “Wasting Light” by Foo Fighters. I immediately found it edgy, compelling, and musical. I was delighted to learn that it was recorded software-free on analog tape in a garage. But this past weekend I was truly relieved and soon enchanted when I began watching the YouTube-streamed Coachella Music Festival from the grapefruit and tangelo-stand known as Indio, California. The intensity and urgency of some of the acts restored my faith in the musicians and the genre that helped raise me. The Friday evening performance by Lauryn Hill captivated me. She dealt with audio problems and complacent band members and crystallized the moment drawing everyone on stage into urgent awareness. The Foals, Cage The Elephant, Jack’s Mannequin, Mumford & Sons, Yelle, and so many more bands seemed to be immune to the dulling cacophony that bleeds through our TV’s, radios, cell phones, iPods, and satellite stations. They seemed to say to me, “Hey, I hear you! I’m not a robot either! Let’s make this moment real and beautiful! And screw you Status Quo!”