“Just wait til your father gets home!” Once upon a time, those words struck fear into every child’s heart. When your father got home, punishment might commence. Heads could roll. Your bedroom might’ve been the center of your life for awhile. Or, as in “Mean Dads for a Better America: The Generous Rewards of an Old-Fashioned Childhood” by Tom Shillue, Dad might have understood kids better than you think he did.
Old TV shows were wrong.
“Duh,” you’re probably saying to yourself. Nobody in your neighborhood was like the Bradys or the Partridge Family. Few kids actually wore love beads and fringed vests. And yet, says Shillue, despite stereotypes, dumb TV, and goofy fads, the late 1960s and early 1970s were the best time to be a kid, ever, hands-down.
That generation, he says, might have grown up in the ‘70s, but it was raised by an older mindset. That meant having a stay-at-home mom, at least most of the time. It meant being a kid without a care. And it meant having a dad that ruled the roost.
Shillue’s dad, for instance, got Shillue and his brother up every Saturday morning for a little trip-slash-history-lesson that involved the Revolutionary War. The hour was always early, the lesson was often Bicentennial-based, and the ride was rough because Shillue was prone to motion-sickness.
Still, nobody questioned the need to obey when Dad said, “’GET IN THE CAH.’” Like “Darth Vader with a Boston accent,” Shillue’s father’s word was final.
Because he only really wanted to raise good citizens, Shillue’s dad wasn’t exactly mean but he did mean business. So did Shillue’s mother, who taught Shillue to be practical and to fight back when confronted by a bully. Both parents taught him gratefulness, and to love.
A profitable lemonade stand taught Shillue to be thrifty. His mother’s abundant (and unfinished) “projects” showed him creativity. The church taught him reverence and how to attract girls (or not). Bravery and audacity showed him that he could speak up for his own benefit, however badly it might turn out. And, he says, the “love of a great woman… changed everything for me.”
To say “I laughed, I cried” seems clichéd, doesn’t it? But I did. I laughed at Shillue, I got teary, and I loved “Mean Dads for a Better America.”
There’s a narrow audience for this book, but it’s a big one: anybody born between, say, 1956 and about 1971 will recognize nearly everything Shillue recalls — the fads, feelings, awkwardness, first dates, and social faux pas — and you might remember them wistfully, even warmly.
As a comedian, Shillue also knows how to give the most embarrassing things a humorous spin and his memories are so universal that you’ll wonder if he didn’t go to your school once. Wasn’t he that nerdy kid who …?
Nah, probably not. Here, look over your memories; Shillue helps uncover them with a smile. “Mean Dads for a Better America” is a memoir like that, so just wait til your father gets home. He’ll want to read this book, too.