Last week, my youngest daughter had surgery. Nothing too major, but a tumor (benign, thank God) had to be removed from her head, so inside I was freaking out. I have had to deal with a lot in my lifetime, but seeing my little girl (OK, she’s 19, but what the hell ever. She still has me wrapped around her finger) in pain, and worse, having a severe panic attack while waiting for them to take her into the operating room, was akin to having a piece of my heart torn out. (Yeah yeah, laugh. I will still punch someone in the face if need be.) Her mom (my ex) and the OR nurse were not helping; they kept talking about the exact things that my daughter was freaking out about.
I took her hand and said, “I will be in there with you, sweetheart. I promise you that.” It was corny, and I am sure that she knew it was BS, but for whatever reason, she calmed down. It was later that I reflected on a conclusion that I had come to a long time ago: Raising kids (most certainly girls) is the toughest and most rewarding job (at least for me), and my time in the Marine Corps and at the CIA has given me tools that have made that journey a bit easier.
First things first. There are a number of awesome parenting-type articles put out by SOFREP writers. They are all outstanding, and mine is just one in a long line, and is based on my own experiences. This isn’t a matter of “do A and B, and C will happen.” Parenting is a contact sport, and how you play the game is up to you. (I had to throw at least one more corny metaphor in for good measure.) We use the gifts and the tools we have. My time in the agency and as a Marine have really helped me out in this area.
Anyone who has attended Marine Corps recruit training (boot camp) knows that, while being in at least some form of physical shape is important, being prepared mentally is much more crucial. If you don’t believe me, ask the demons on two legs that are Marine drill instructors. My oldest daughter was almost a year old when I graduated boot camp, and the mental toughness that the training instilled in me helped prepare me for the countless “Why can’t I’s,” the foot stomping, and the tantrums. Later, as my kids got older, it allowed me to hug my daughter as she cried about some boy who had broken her heart, then drive from Virginia to New Jersey to yank him off his front porch and into the street after he sent me a tough-guy text about how he will do whatever he wants with her whenever he wants. (Yes, he was 18, and yes, he is still living. He just avoids my daughter as we agreed.)
My two oldest and youngest children are girls, so my son has been my ray of sanity sunlight in the estrogen-filled darkness that involved my ex-wife and two daughters (the bookends, as I call them). My son, now in his twenties, is what one would call a gentle giant. He has always been big (he is now 6’4” and weighs about 230 pounds), but he is very quiet. We have an amazing relationship (at least I think so), but getting him to open up is like pulling teeth sometimes. This is where my skill set as a CIA officer came in handy. More than once, I had to convince an active or potential asset to open up and give me the information I needed, and it required a different approach for each one. With my son, the “you, me—same, same” approach seemed to work best.
With the YM—SS approach, an intelligence officer, after doing his/her due diligence on the potential target, does their best to convince them that they share similar interests or feelings about a particular topic or subject. This could be anything from tennis to bosses and how the target hates the way their boss, who happens to be the minister of defense, treats them like a pack mule. Whether you know not a damned thing about tennis or you love your boss, you had better practice both your overhand serve and putting on your “OMG, I know, right?” voice. With my son, just as in an operation, I was able to use my real-life experiences to both empathize with him and offer advice, mostly based on how I had screwed it up and learned better.
With my daughters, it sometimes took a mix of Marine and secret agent man. My daughters are insanely intelligent and strong-willed women, and they know exactly how to use both to their advantage when it comes to dealing with Dad. Without going into too much detail, I once had to convince a scientist who dealt with infectious diseases that telling his colleagues that he was talking with the CIA was not in anyone’s best interest. He believed that doing so would not only make getting the information needed easier, but that it might also convince some of them to come forward as well. Uh, no. It would lead to jail. In the end, he listened, because he realized that I valued his safety just as much as I did his information. No different with my daughters. When my youngest came to me with the idea of she and her friends taking the train to a concert in a not-so-nice area, I used some of the same tactics to convince her that not only was it a bad idea safety-wise, but that it was a great idea to let her uncool Dad drive them (and hover in the area) then bring them home. Mission accomplished.
Sometimes though, James Bond (or in my case, Black Dynamite) does not cut it. Reverse psychology (making them think the idea was theirs) and smooth talk don’t work. Sometimes (and usually after they have ignored the agency approach and all hell has broken loose), “The Monster” has to come out. The Monster is a term that was used by my “heavy”—that drill instructor whose job it was to play bad cop times 20 and reinforce a lesson with pain…and lots of screaming for good measure. Now, they never hit us (this was 1992, not “Full Metal Jacket”) but then again, with massive amounts of push-ups, burpees, and time in the sand pit, they didn’t have to lay a finger on us. I never used these techniques with my kids, but after one particularly hellish weekend involving a prom house in the Catskills, 50+ kids and $30,000 in damages, The Monster was in full screaming effect. Today, it is the stuff of Powell household legend—and ongoing nightmares.
So in the end, whether it is convincing a nuclear scientist to pass secrets, a squad of lance corporals to stack up on a bad-guy house, or getting my daughter to realize that dropping out of college to follow her boyfriend on his rap-artist journey is no bueno, it takes every tool you have. We have our own experiences, we have advice from family and friends, then some of us have The Monster and the Field Tradecraft Course. Whatever works.