End Game

My oldest son, Max, was a kind of genius when it came to resisting my wife’s and my attempts to discipline him. When he was three he used to wake up in the middle of the night and refuse to go back into his room. One night I got so furious I slammed my hand on his bed and screamed, “No more of this!” We then stuffed him in his room and camped outside his door, waiting to stuff him back in his room should he attempt to leave. He did not attempt to leave. Instead, he opened the door, cried, “No more of this!” and slammed the door again. Then he did it again. And again. And again. I probably got to hear my words echoed back at me in this fashion a dozen times.

When he was nine, we told him if he didn’t stop playing his Gameboy so much we would take it from him. Max marched into his room, grabbed the Gameboy, plucked a large spoon out of the kitchen drawer, and headed outside. “Where are you going?” I demanded.

“I’m going to bury the Gameboy.”

Our bluff called, we were reduced to begging him not to bury the toy on which we had recently spent $100.

Every writer will tell you the importance of discipline. It takes discipline to return to the page every day when no one is paying you to do so. This is the discipline I would like to teach my boys, but it is not a discipline anyone had to scare or threaten into me. I go to the page every day by choice.

My futile attempts at discipline always reduce to a contest of wills, a contest that no one can ever win nor lose. Even when they chose to follow my dictums – however well intentioned my dictums may be – they do so by their own choice. Secretly they know this. Secretly they understand no one can make them do anything: they are as free as I am, and when they understand this fully, the game will finally be over.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

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