Most fathers have their special stuff. For some, it’s the tools in the garage that are hung in the exact places they want them. For others, it’s sports memorabilia that is hung in the basement. Some Dads treasure their books, computers, old records or a favorite La-Z-Boy in the den. Whatever the case, most Dads have some stuff that is prime property in their minds—and when the kids get into it, the Dad either cringes to think what will happen, or outright bans the kids from touching the stuff.

In my family backpacking, camping, and all things outdoor-related were of utmost importance. I don’t remember a vacation we took in my life when we didn’t camp out in the woods or at a campground (if we were lucky). We carried packs on our backs shortly after learning to walk. And before that we were carried in a backpack ourselves. We grew up amongst the trees, hills, lakes, mountains and hiking trails.

So you can imagine how important all our camping and backpacking equipment was in our house. We spent far more money each year on that equipment than we ever would on eating out and going to the movies combined. And one year Dad was able to buy a few tents for his office staff’s retreat. These large tents were the newer (at the time) kind of “pop-up” tents with lightweight poles that created a great dome and a huge space inside, especially compared to our musty-center-poled-wet-edged tent that only a green-beret soldier with no sense of smell would sleep in without complaint. I begged Dad to let my buddy and me sleep out in the tent in our yard one Friday night. He begrudgingly agreed, since they weren’t even really his tents, but on one condition: that I would not ruin a thing and that I would put it up properly and stake it to the ground so that it wouldn’t blow away in the wind, as these tents could do from time to time.

My buddy and I had the best time in the world in our new tent-turned-hideout, and got up in the morning and ran inside to watch cartoons and eat breakfast. When we went outside to grab our things from the tent we noticed a big bare spot with only pale and flattened grass where the tent was supposed to be.  Apparently without the weight of two boys in it, the tent—with it’s zipper door open—acted much like a huge balloon kite, and flew down the street. This could of course have been prevented by staking it into the ground like I’d been told, but alas the stakes were in a bag inside the tent, never opened, and now were having the ride of their lives inside the tent-turned-massive-tumbleweed. We frantically searched the neighborhood for Dad’s precious tent, and the contents of which included many other camping possessions only purchasable in far-away hippie camping stores in Maine or California. We never found the tent. It had either been picked up by an opportunistic man with a truck, who must have been startled by the kite-like tent bopping by, or it is still blowing around somewhere in the badlands of South Dakota to this day.

The Hammer Drops

Dad was ticked. The instructions were simple. He knew he shouldn’t have let us use the nice new tent he had just bought with his office’s retreat money. And all the stuff inside of the tent was gone too! Camping stuff! Backpacking stuff! The most important stuff we owned (a tell-tale sign that my parents were left-over Jesus-people hippies if there ever was one). I was in big trouble.

But Dad didn’t take it out on me physically. A spanking wouldn’t make the point that needed to be made and besides, I was getting a little old for that. I cost him a bunch of money. He couldn’t just take it out of my hide and break even. So he devised a plan. We made up a large chart where certain humiliating chores would net me small payments: like 50 cents for shining his shoes, or a buck for washing the cars. I can’t remember much of the work I did, but I do remember that it took me months to build up enough credit to pay back the hundreds of dollars I owed. I learned my lesson big-time. Not only would I stake down every tent from then on, I would follow Dad’s instructions to the letter on things—especially when it involved his camping stuff!

Learning Long-Term Lessons

Being a Dad means teaching long-term lessons. It is easy to try to teach lessons in a minute—as though corporal punishment or one anger-filled yell-fest will sink in to a kid’s mind effectively. Sometimes the best lessons are taught when a kid is punished for a long time. Equally important, kids often forget past punishments. Some of our strong-willed kids seem to forget a punishment five minutes after they received it, doing the same thing right in front of you again (if this sounds familiar to you this week then please put down the bottle of pills and read on.) The remedy for this is a longer-term and more creative punishment, one that fits the crime, like mine did. This makes the lesson a learned one. If a kid wrecks something expensive—she should pay for it to be replaced. If he vandalizes someone’s property, he should fork over four Saturdays to scrub and paint it over. If she calls the problem an “accident” then now is the time to teach responsibility over the results rather than intentions. If he is two hours late from when you said he needed to be home, then think up a way for him to pay back those two hours in the most memorable way so that the next time he thinks twice about being late.


Questions to Ask Yourself or a Group of Other Dads:

  1. What kind of life lessons did your parents teach you as a kid?
  2. What’s the worst thing your own kids have done recently?  How did you punish them?  Could there have been a more creative and lesson-teaching way to go about it?
  3. What do you think about the validity of spanking kids and why?
  4. What are some good ideas of ways to teach lessons to your kids?  
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