I started walking at nine months. There was not a gate or door that could hold me. My mom bought every childproof lock she could find, but evidently “childproof” did not mean “Brandon-proof.” She had doorknobs that even she couldn’t open, but I always managed to get through them. She would lock me into my high chair, but if she stepped into the bathroom for even a moment, I’d be gone when she returned.
By 18 months I discovered the joys of climbing. I found I could climb up, over, and into pretty much anything. This ability, combined with my easy friendship with locks and predilection for drinking anything I could get my hands on, added up to quite a few visits to the emergency room to have my little toddler-sized stomach pumped. Among the beverages I sampled during those early years were kerosene, bleach, and Avon honeysuckle after-bath splash. I’m not saying this is a method I would endorse or recommend, but I am convinced that this is why I have always been able to hold my liquor and have never had a problem with addiction. By the time I was three, the hospital emergency room staff and my mom knew each other on a first-name basis.
When my mom was pregnant with my sister, my dad built an enclosure with a swing and what he thought was a Brandon-proof gate. (There’s that term again: “Brandon-proof.” Hadn’t they learned?) My mom still doesn’t know how I got out since she was sitting right there reading a book — but she looked up and I was gone. I had crawled under a barbed-wire fence, scooted down a steep hill, and was out of sight.
My mother was wild with fear. Seven months pregnant, she knew there was no way she could get under that barbed-wire fence, and she didn’t have any wire cutters. The night before, she and my father had seen a pack of coyotes prowling around, and now all she could think of was how her tiny son would make a tasty little coyote meal. The only reason she spotted me was because I was wearing a red sweatshirt. Somehow she managed to coax me back up the hill and under the fence so she could grab me. She was crying hysterically and at the same time wanted to beat me.
From my earliest years, I always had a penchant for danger and physical extremes. This made my poor mother’s life a living hell. She likes to say that when I was little, she was the victim of parental abuse. She once called Social Services on herself when I had driven her to the edge with my behavior. She explained to the poor lady on the phone that her two-year-old son was driving her so crazy, she was about to hurt him. The social worker spent a week at our house observing. But I behaved like an angel for those seven days, and she left thinking my mom must be crazy.
It didn’t take long for my parents to figure out that while they couldn’t control my wild energy, they could channel it. Once they saw how madly in love I was with skiing, they knew they’d stumbled on the parenting strategy that would serve us all well for years to come. If they could get me involved in every sports activity possible, maybe it would keep me out of trouble. And it did — at least for a while.
By age five I was on a ski team. By age seven I had piled wrestling, football, baseball, swimming, and tracking onto my athletic schedule. Later, as an adult, I found that I had a love of extreme sports. The steeper the ski slope, the larger the wave, the higher the cliff, the more difficult the jump from the plane or helicopter. The more danger and adrenaline is involved, the more I want to try to conquer it. In my 30s, I would channel that same impulse into a drive to conquer huge goals in the entrepreneurial world. At the age of five, my Mount Everest was a 2,500-foot hill called North Star Mountain.
My earliest memories are of the crisp cold in my face and the sibilant schusss of the snow under my skis as I flew down the face of North Star. Every day, during the long months of the ski season, my mom would pick me up from kindergarten and drive us straight out to the slopes. We had a season pass, and we used up every penny of it.
Less than half the height of its more famous neighbors, Whistler and Blackcomb, North Star is not really much of a mountain. But I didn’t know that. To me, it seemed vast and inexhaustible. When I think back on my early childhood, what I remember most are the countless afternoons on my bright yellow Mickey Mouse K2 skis, exploring every trail and out-of-the-way patch of what seemed to be an endless world of snow and adventure.
Thank you, baby Jesus for letting me off the hook with having to relive the fiery hell I put my mother through when I was a kid! At least I had to go through Navy SEAL Hell Week, mom!
Fast forward. I’m a former Navy SEAL, Multiple New York Times bestselling author, business owner, and father to three incredible and truly remarkable kids. But, it wasn’t easy!
Being a parent is tough, especially in a complex digital world. The demands that the pandemic has put on parents has made it more difficult. How many Zoom meetings have we been on with squealing kids in the background?! But there’s help coming!
I’ll share some of my Navy SEAL dad stuff here with you for the first time.
Navy SEAL Parenting Tips
I should mention that I have an amazing co-parent in their mom. She rocks! I know divorce is tough and it takes two to get along but thankful we put our kids happy as our magnetic north. This has always brought us to a place of understanding, compromise, and friendship.
One of my best dad experiences was when one day my son, Hunter, sent me a handwritten letter from class. It is strange to get a letter in the mail that isn’t selling you something. I cried when I read it. He was 14, I think. He went on to say how much he appreciated me as his dad and that he was happy his mom and I get along so well. It was much more than that but you get the point.
I’ve always parented with the following guiding principles: Happy mom, happy kids. Show them love, set boundaries, have consequences for breaking them, and no false threats. My punishment of choice was taking away luxury items (when they were older it was the cell phone, for sure). In restaurants, it was push-ups, one for each year of age. This was more of an embarrassment for them than a physical hardship but it worked and by six-seven I could take them to Eleven Madison in New York and they’d behave like British Royals.
Travel and exposure to different cultures were also important to me as a dad. I’m grateful that their mom let me take them all over America, Europe, and parts of Africa before they were 16. This has had a lasting impact and also planted the seeds of adventure. It’s a globally connected world we live in: we might as well prepare them for it.
Diet is something very important to think about as parents, especially with COVID, cancer, and the rise in childhood obesity. Our bodies perform at their peak only if we put good fuel inside them. This is probably one of the toughest things for parents to get across to our kids because they are being force-fed unhealthy food and snack advertisements 24/7 on TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram, and other sites. Plus, the whole, “Do as I say not as I do,” is complete bullshit.
Parents have to lead by example. If you’re knocking back a bag of Doritos and asking them to eat Pita thins, it’s not going to work. You have to set an example. At the same time, realize that some sweets are ok. I don’t think getting religiously fundamental around food is good for anyone, especially kids. Set a good example and they’ll eventually catch on. I’m mostly a pescatarian. Their mom is strict about health, exercise, and diet in her own life and our kids eat much healthier as teenagers today, all on their own. We both take vitamin supplements and gave the kids natural vitamins to keep them healthy and supplement poor eating decisions (it happens). Ensure they get the daily required amount of nutrients for immune system strength.
I also taught them two of my Navy SEAL sniper mental management tips when they were very young, about three years old.
Firstly, the importance of Self Talk (our inside voice). It’s so important to teach them early about how people, mostly adults, will place their own insecurities on them by sometimes telling them, “you’ll never be or do (fill in the blank)”.
Can you believe my high school counselor told me I would never be a Navy SEAL? What a jerk! Teaching your kids to write their own narrative and what they want can happen if they strive for it.
Secondly, visualization. Teaching them to close their eyes to visualize success through mental rehearsal is a game-changer, as I’ve detailed in other articles. This stuff works. I’ve seen it myself, training elite Navy SEAL snipers and training my own Navy SEAL kids.
Meet the Navy SEAL Kids
Hunter, 19, is a math major at the University of St. Andrews and on his school chess team. He runs a small self-storage business on the side and is figuring out how to write a machine-learning algorithm to solve many of the issues facing that industry.
Olivia, 16, is a junior in Oregon where she’s on the ski team. She just returned from New York where she was hired by Saks 5th Ave. and Puma as an in-store artist creating her designs on shoes. Her business is @Oliviacustoms on Instagram and Etsy.
Grayson, 14, just finished his school year with straight As. He made his local basketball travel team prior to the pandemic. He’s taking three-point shots in his head now more than ever! During COVID, he’s been taking free online college courses on entrepreneurship.