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.

How spy skills and 'The Monster' help me raise my kids

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.)

How spy skills and 'The Monster' help me raise my kids

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.