Saturday, September 6, 2008

Spot the sad man

Former All Black captain and coach Sir Brian Lochore has been around long enough to have known he was likely to cop some flak for a speech he gave in Auckland last week at a breakfast hosted by Parents Inc. But even he must have been taken aback by the sheer viciousness of an attack launched on him by Sunday Star-Times sports columnist Richard Boock.

The views Lochore expressed on parenting were, I would suggest, pretty typical for a man of his background and age. They were views that many people, and not just those of Lochore’s generation, would heartily applaud. They represent a substantial strand of Middle New Zealand opinion that rarely gets heard in a world where media-savvy liberal activists tend to dominate public debate. And I would suggest they are views that are likely to be heard even less frequently if those who dare express them get savaged as venomously as Lochore was by Boock.

Lochore said (and I’m quoting from Simon Collins’ report in the New Zealand Herald) that fathers needed to let their children take risks, but also had to lay down rules and impose consequences if rules were broken. Nothing extreme here; these are principles I would like to think my wife and I – and most of our friends, come to that – followed in bringing up our children.

He went on to say: “We are living in a PC world which is destroying us, where you actually can’t put the hard word on people when they have digressed [sic] and committed bad blunders.

“One of the advantages of being a farmer is that I was able to work with my children. You can take them on the back of your motorbike, which you’re not supposed to do any more. You can take them on your horse, which you’re not supposed to do any more.”

He said his daughters went to a rugby game at three weeks old and later played in the mud while their dad downed a jug in the bar after a game. “In the evenings we went to the rugby parties with the kids, who slept in the back of the car. We can’t do that any more because we haven’t got rid of the perpetrators that actually destroy our society.”

He said he trusted his friends to discipline his children and they trusted him to discipline theirs. “My friends were my children’s role models and I was my friends’ children’s role model.

“The one thing I believe is important in life is respect. They respected authority, they respected teachers, I respected the teachers. We lack a great deal of respect for authority nowadays, there’s always someone protesting.

“Respect and role models are very important in life. You as a father, with the aid of your partner – I can’t say ‘wife’ these days, PC. You are the one who sets the ground rules. And don’t ever tell me that the kids don’t want to know where the line is. They do.”

As a coach, he told the All Blacks they could do anything they liked off the field as long as they didn’t annoy anyone or break anything. “All I had to say was, ‘Hey boy, I think you’re annoying me’, ” he said.

“People have to make decisions, and people do make mistakes. But make sure that you take action – that there are consequences, and that you actually follow them through.
Yes, I smacked my children, but I’ve never hit them. Yes, I smacked other people’s children, but I never hit them. But we are not allowed to do that any more in this PC world.”

Lochore’s comments seemed to be at least partly endorsed by Parents Inc founder Ian Grant, who observed – I believe correctly – that society was turning fathers into “male mothers” obsessed with safety instead of adventure.

Now I might quibble with some of the finer points of what Lochore said (the distinction between smacking and hitting eluded me, though I think I know what he meant), but they were not unreasonable views. They were an expression of frustration at the stifling influence of busybody lawmakers and activist lobby groups that seek to subvert the right of parents to determine how they will raise their own children. Lochore and his wife are probably proud of having brought up their family well. He no doubt resents the implication that by leaving his children asleep in the car outside while he partied, he was a bad or negligent father. Such behaviour might seem startling to today’s nervous, obsessively risk-averse young parents, who hesitate to let their children out the back door, but it was unexceptional in previous generations and should be judged by the prevailing attitudes of those times. Were Lochore’s children harmed by being left asleep in the car or by playing in the mud while he enjoyed a post-match beer? Were they emotionally scarred for life by the experience? I think I know what their answers would be.

To read Boock’s column, however, you’d think Lochore was a menace to public safety. The tone was set by a headline that came perilously close to being defamatory: “Sad, old Brian the bully”. What followed was a gratuitously insulting rant that misrepresented and distorted what Lochore had said.

The misrepresentation was condensed in the following statement: “Essentially, the implication [from Lochore’s speech] was that if we tried bring back the biff at home, all would be solved. Sad man.” That was such a warped meaning to take from the speech that you had to wonder what state of mind the writer was in.

Boock ridiculed Lochore for being old: “Hark the cry of the ageing old duffer”. He suggested he had taken too many blows in the ruck – always a handy cheap shot when writing about former rugby players, and one that conveniently overlooked Lochore’s distinguished record in public life since his playing days. Boock accused Lochore, in effect, of promoting a culture of male violence, writing that he “came across as just another rugby bully”. I couldn’t for the life of me see how that meaning could be taken from Lochore’s reported speech, especially bearing in mind that Lochore, though he played in an era when All Black forwards were celebrated for their uncompromising physicality, was never noted for violent or unfair play.

But it got worse. Obviously building up a head of steam, the excitable Boock proceeded to suggest that Lochore hankered for the days when domestic abuse and spousal rape were allowed and women couldn’t get jobs (when was that, then?) or bank loans. I read and re-read Lochore’s reported comments, searching for any hints that he might have condoned any of the above, but found none.

I’m sorry, but it’s Boock who’s the sad man here. His column ended up – as such pieces often do – revealing far more about him than the man he was attacking.


Steve Withers said...

Lochore's speech combined things that aren't acceptable with things that are. It set up some straw men and knocked others down.

I found myself agreeing with him on some things and thinking he was way off the mark on others.

For example: leaving the kids to sleep in the car while attending a party is clearly a dodgy thing to do under any circumstances. If a Maori did it, they would be treated harshly by public opinion and seen as neglecting their kids.

For example: Exactly who says kids shouldn't ride pillion on motorbikes or on the back of a saddle? Pure straw man.

Vaughan said...

In 2008 leaving kids to sleep in the car would be regarded as dodgy but it wasn't in the circumstances that prevailed in the 1950s and 1960s when many farmers would do this.

Community life was so strong that everybody would attend the local dances and parties and there wouldn't necessarily be many babysitters available for some couples.

At the dances kids would often skate around on the powdered dance floor and when they got tired would be put in the car to sleep. Parents would emerge from time to time and check up on their kids. You could say that the parents were careful with their kids, keeping them close by.

If there is a view that a molester could have got at them, then that is probably unfounded. The bigger danger would have been with babysitters, because we know that molestation usually is perpetrated by non-strangers.

Things are getting bad when a patently decent man like Brian Lochore gets sledged.