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Today’s Hypersensitive Culture Diminishes Childhood Experience

Comedian and Fox News host, Tom Shillue discusses overzealous parenting and shares the rewards of an old-fashioned childhood. Read Transcript


NARRATOR: Comedian and Fox News host Tom Shillue

says good old respect has gone the way of the dinosaur.

Raised in Norwood, Massachusetts in a large Irish-Catholic

family, Tom says his parents kept

him grounded with love for God, country, and family.

In his book "Mean Dads For a Better America,"

Tom shares funny childhood stories

while addressing serious issues on the forefront

of every parents' mind today.

Tom joins me now.

And thanks for being here.

Thanks, Gordon.

All right, let's get into your childhood.

You say that your dad was Darth Vader, which is kind of scary.


You know?

That's what he said.

Would he-- he would scare you?

Me and my brother were afraid of my dad.

He would wake us up on Saturday morning with his breathing.

GORDON: Really?

My dad would say (IMITATING DARTH VADER) get in the car.

And we'd run downstairs.

We'd get in the car.

We jumped.

GORDON: I'm just impressed he got up before you.


He did.

Early to rise, and then he'd get us in the car

and drive us somewhere.

And we didn't know where we were going.

There he is.

That's, you know, him in his younger days.

But, you know, you look at him now

and you think, oh, he didn't look scary.

And, you know, my kids, they say, Dad,

what are you-- what are you writing about,

you know, Grandpa Shillue like this for?

He's such a nice old man.

But I try to tell these stories from the perspective

of a little kid.

And we were afraid of my dad.

We were afraid to speak back to him.

And, you know, he was the kind of dad, I always say--

a lot of young people I think-- you know,

you guys get the book.

You see the title and you see the humor in it immediately.

But a lot of young people that--

GORDON: Oh, yeah.

--I've been talking to, they say what do you mean?

You mean abusive dads are good?

And I say, you've got to know the difference.

Because a mean dad--

in my book, it's said tongue-in-cheek

because mean dads, they know when

to be mean in the service of raising good children.

And that's what it's about.

Well, what do you think the impact is though, from a--

from, I guess, a society standpoint?

Because I don't think we have mean kids anymore.

I think we have helicopter parents.


That are trying to watch out.

And keep kids from trouble.

And make sure they have a perfect life.

What do you think the impact of that will be?

Well, I think that we need to take

a little bit of the mean dad philosophy from the past

and bring it forward.

You know, I was on the playground recently.

I'm raising my kids in the Bronx.

And I said to one of my daughters--

she was having a little tantrum--

and I said-- she said something about her feelings.

I said, I don't care you feel.

I care how you behave.

And one of the other parents looked at me.

It was a New York mom.

She kind of looked at me.

She said, where did you get that?

And I said, I think my mom used to say it.


But the thing is, again, it's--

I tell that story and the idea is that of course I

care how my kids feel.

But I want them to know that behavior comes first.

I think a lot of times, people put it in the other order now.

They start with the feelings first.

But in my family, behavior came first, you know?

And it wasn't abusive.

We knew our parents loved us.

My dad used to reach for the belt. But he never used it.

He never had to use it because--

The threat was enough.

We jumped, right?


GORDON: Are you worried about America going forward?

TOM: I try not to worry.

GORDON: Really?

TOM: The book is optimistic, you know?

I like to put a positive spin on things.

That's why, when I look back, I want

to look back at these stories and I want to laugh.

And I want people to look at these stories

and laugh at the way my parents did it

because we're not going to do everything the way they did.

I would say, you know, we're not going to--

my mother tied me to a tree so I wouldn't run in the street.

I had a little harness.

I was tied to a tree.

And she wanted to keep me safe.

And she had to get housework done.

She was very busy.

She had five kids.

So she tied me to a tree.

A simple solution.

But I'm not going to do that.

I'm not going to tie my kid to a tree, but--

All right, but let's correct this.

She tied you to a harness.

You were free to run around.


Run around a tree in a circle.

That's not being tied to a tree.

No, she didn't--



I like to--

That's being tethered to a tree.


I was tethered, you're right.

It like-- and I would go in a little circle, you know?

But the thing is that today--

I bet you wore a path around it.


But you see kids-- you know, parents today,

there's an argument over--

they have little kids in the airport

and they want to keep them safe, so they have them on a harness.

And people look and they say, shame on you.

And it's like, it's just a solution.

It's just keeping the kid safe.


You know?

It's keeping them within reach.


You can go so far but you can't go too far.


And it's the political correctness.

It's gone so far and parents hover over their kids.

So the thing is, I was very disciplined.

So when I say mean dads, it really

is tongue-in-cheek because my parents were tough.

And my mom was the kind of mom who would say,

if a kid bullied me, she would say, well, hit him back.

Go out there and work it out.

So we had to work things out.

The thing is that we were disciplined

but we weren't hovered over.

When you told them you got a fight, were they proud of?


She said go hit him back and I did.

And you know what?

I hit him back.

And then, let's face it, I lost that fight.

He kind of beat me up.

But I went home and I had bruises,

but I had stuck up for myself.

And he didn't pick on me again.

Right, I bet the bully remembered that.


You know, I don't want to pick a fight with him.


And so we learned that way.

Our parents, they had the faith to have

us learn our own tough lessons, you know?

And they weren't that tough.

I always say, my parents' parents,

they were meaner than them.

Go back through history.

Every dad was meaner going back, you know?

Well I just went through my family history

and I discovered that.

You know, I took it back to the Civil War.

And I looked at the family history

and what these people were like.

And then you go through the photographs and how they lived.

And I go, that was hard.


I mean, that, that was really hard.


I always say, look at those old photographs.

Do the wife and children look anything but terrified

of that man in the derby hat?

They don't look happy either.

I mean, you see the photographs.

And I guess it's you have to sit still.


And so nobody's-- yeah, everybody's got this grim face.


And so I think that--

I am optimistic about the future.

You know, if we think of-- if we value

families instead of-- everyone's obsessed

with their online image and their devices.

And you know, sometimes the world, it gets a little crazy.

And we have to look inward.

And we can improve the world through our families, I think.

You know?

It's family time.

And I always remind my kids of that.

That, you know, you look at me there and you say, come on,

you're not a mean dad.

But I mean what I--

GORDON: You're not mean at all.

TOM: Look at the ice cream!

GORDON: You got ice cream.


TOM: Two scoops there.

But I'm mean when I have to be.

And they know that--

That's just one big scoop.


How much does that cost now, a scoop of ice cream?


You're spoiling them.

They know, they know when, they know--

when I am mean, they know that I'm trying to raise them right.

And I think--

Have we lost family?

I look at America today--


Of course.

The dominant household now is a single parent.

Yeah, and it's--

the thing is that that's another message.

It's not just, it's not all about, you know,

mean dads and disciplining your kids.

It's about having kids.

And I tell all my friends, you know, I'm a comedian.

You know, there's a lot of ne'er-do-wells out there.

And I was one too.

You know, I got married later.

I didn't have my first child until I was 40.

But at that point, after we had kids,

I said to my wife, what were we doing?

What did we do for all this-- how many dinners can you have?

You know?

So I say to these New York comic friends of mine,

I say just get married.

And they say, well, you know, I haven't found the right girl.

And I say, you know, well go out and seek them.

Find them.

Get married, have kids.

Stop this nonsense.

Everyone, they're-- they're worried that they're not going

to have enough pleasure in their life.

But they're not really happy.

I mean, I wasn't really happy till I got married

and had kids.

And then I looked back and I said,

what was I after for that decade, that lost decade,

you know, trying to be a single man in New York?

Well, to my amazement, I'm now looking--

I have an older brother and he's got grandkids.

And I'm now looking at-- my kids haven't got married yet.

And I'm like, can you hurry this along?

I really want to be a granddad.


And I want that feeling of the generations.


That, yeah, we're going to go forward.

That's the thing.

It's another thing that-- and a lot of Americans are doing it.

And it's Europe, as well.

They're delaying this-- first of all,

they delay their adolescence till their 30s.

And then they delay their, this kind of adulthood,

when they're trying to be singles

and swiping right and all this other stuff, until their 40s.

And then at that point, it's kind of like, well,

what was I doing all this time?

And that's why we don't have the big families anymore.

I grew up in a big family.

And when my parents weren't around,

I was disciplined by my brothers and sisters.

Oh, yeah.

They'd keep you in line.


Yeah, and they'd rat you out, too.


And I like-- I mean, this is why--

And I'm starting to see it.

In my world, I'm starting to see bigger families.

And you know, I toured the country with Jim Gaffigan.

He's got five kids.

And I'd have my kids.

And we'd all go out together.

And, and there's a lot of families out there.



It's chaos.

But it's a blessed chaos.

Yeah, and it's wonderful chaos.


So get out there.

Get married.

Have kids.

TOM: There you go.

Have your kids have kids.

Have grandkids.

And be a mean dad for a better America.

The book is called "Mean Dads For a Better America:

The Generous Rewards of an Old-Fashioned Childhood."

And it's available wherever books are sold.

And Tom, thanks for being with us.

Thank you so much, Gordon.



Appreciate it.


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