A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


I had the world's meanest parents.

Oh, they did a good job of covering, with all their smiles and hugs and "I love yous." But they couldn't fool me. No, sir. They were mean, all right.

Clear through to the heart.

You wouldn't believe some of the stuff they made us do. Like work, for example. You would have thought we were indentured servants or something. Not only did we have to make our own beds and keep our rooms tidy, but we also had to help clean the rest of the house. I did so many dishes I was the only boy in the sixth grade with dishpan hands.

Then there was all of the outside work. Since I was the last of four sons living at home, the garden was mine to weed, the garage was mine to sweep, the sidewalks were mine to shovel and the lawn was mine to mow, trim and rake. You have no idea how many times I planned to run away from home while I was pushing that ancient push mower up and down the slopes of our front yard. In my mind I ran away 20 times each summer.

As tough as it was for me, in some ways my sisters had it even tougher. When miniskirts were fashionable, for example, my sisters were still wearing dresses that went all the way to the knee, if you can believe it. They were never allowed to call boys (although I know for sure that Kathy made a few calls to Rick George while the Gestapo was watching "Bonanza"). And when they started dating their boyfriends had to come to the door to pick them up and meet Mom and Dad the girls couldn't just run out when the boy honked his horn, like normal teenagers.

And that isn't even the half of it. These people were into total control. We had no lifestyle of our own. We had to ask permission for everything if we could have some soda, if we could go to a friend's house, if we could stay up late and watch Johnny Carson. We couldn't date until we were 16, we had nightly curfews as long as we lived at home and we weren't allowed to buy a car with our own money until we had saved up enough to pay for college first.

We tried to convince our parents that all of the other kids in the neighborhood had a lot more freedom than we did. But do you think they cared? I sometimes wondered if they had even heard of the U.S. Constitution or the Bill of Rights.

On top of it all, they tried to teach us the things they considered to be important, like how to get along with others, how to cooperate, how to obey rules, how to uphold our values, how to respect the rights of others, how to find validation and satisfaction through service. And they thought that the best way we would learn those lessons was to live them every day of our lives. No matter what.

And what do they have to show for it? Not much. Just loving, devoted children who are reasonably happy, well-adjusted and with one possible exception contributing positively to society. Don't get me wrong we have each had our share of problems. But for whatever it's worth, we all make our respective livings honestly. We pay our taxes. We are all active in church and civic affairs.

And we are all trying to do our part for the future by being just as "mean" to our children and grandchildren as our parents were to us.

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--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through