Some of you may have heard of this Rob Ford character. He is the current Mayor of Toronto and the revelations coming out of and about him over the past few weeks have been astonishing and crazy and unbelievable. I’ve attempted to write this post a few times and it has been a challenge because there were new developments every day.
I read this post on Playground Confidential on How to talk to your kids about our crack mayor the day he admitted to crack use and ever since have been thinking about what kinds of parenting lessons we can take from this circus sideshow.
It seems to me that Rob Ford has been behaving like a teenaged boy and not an adult. He is acting like none of his bad behaviour matters and like it is a separate issue from his role as mayor.
If I were Rob Ford’s father I think I would want to help him learn the following lessons.
Responsibility and Accountability
He has apologized for his actions and comments and at the same time offered excuses for them. He smoke crack because he was drunk. He was in a drunken stupor because everyone does it as he seemed to suggest in this interview with Matt Lauer. He used sexually inappropriate language in a press conference because he is under stress as a result of revelations about his behaviour. He knocked over a city councillor because he was angry. He is very sorry for all of these things.
He has not taken accountability for his actions. That would entail acknowledging that he has behaved inappropriately and demonstrating that he understands that was wrong and in many cases illegal. If I were his father we would be heading to the police station to talk about what he knows about gangs and drug dealers in the city. I would expect him to explain his interactions with gang members and confess to any illegal actions and accept the consequences. I suspect that the police and crown attorney would likely be offer him a deal for whatever information he is able to provide. He needs to demonstrate that he can be trusted and that he is no longer breaking the law. Nobody has suggested that he is corrupt or being unduly influenced by gang members. At this point it is an issue of drug and alcohol use and the attempted cover-up of those activities so my priority were I his parent would be to make sure he is getting the help he needs to be healthy. That also seems to be concern of many city councillors. Many of them have asked him to take a break and get some help.
Rob Ford is a chronic liar. He claimed he had never smoked crack or done drugs, then he said he had. During the election campaign he said he had not driven impaired, then acknowledged he had. He has since said he may have done it since becoming mayor. It is hard to know what to believe since he keeps having to retract his denials. The media have also challenged the claims he has made about his fiscal track record.
Lying is a challenging habit to break, especially when you are afraid of getting in trouble for your actions. When I was in kindergarten I cut my own hair and chunks out of my shirt during arts and crafts time. When my parents asked me what had happened, I explained that a grade six kid had cut my hair and shirt on the playground. My parents were pretty sure that was not what had happened, and so they challenged me to tell the truth; my dad went so far as to come to school and walk me down to the grade six classes to have me ID the kid who did it. After about a week of lying I broke and told them the truth. My parents were not particularly concerned about the fact that I had cut my own hair. They were, however, quite concerned about my deception.
Were I Rob Ford’s dad, I would be concerned about his use of drugs and alcohol and whatever makes him feel the need to escape from reality by getting so drunk that he can’t remember whether or not he used crack. I would be equally concerned about the deception to hide this activities in the first place. Lying is a normal part of our development and a challenge for us parents to address in a constructive way. We want our kids to learn that we want them to be honest. Being honest is sometimes very hard and can have negative consequences for us. Ford is afraid of being honest about his actions and so lies in the hopes that no one finds out. Ford needs to learn the benefits of being honest and the negative consequences of deception.
Toronto city council stripped Rob Ford of most of his powers and duties as well as his office budget and staff. Understandably that made him angry. He then threatened councillors with war. He threatened to work for their defeat in the next election. He has made these kinds of threats in the past. He threatens to use his supporters as an electoral club to thrash people who won’t do what he wants.
I have had a couple of conversations with my seven year old about how bullies are often trying to feel better about themselves by putting others down. They feel insecure about something or are victims of bullying themselves. They may be afraid of something and bully other kids to feel stronger and more confident.
So how do we parent a bully? What can we do to stop bullying behaviour? There is some good guidance on this bullying statistics site. What does Ford need in order to stop this behaviour? He needs to see negative consequences to his behaviour. He needs positive reinforcement when he uses other constructive forms of persuasion. He needs to empathize with others and think about how he would feel if he were the victim of bullying. I rather suspect from some of his statements to the media that he feels like the victim of this whole situation.
Who is the parent in this case?
Rob Ford’s actual father is no longer alive. His mother seems to be an enabler as is his brother – city councillor Doug Ford – at least in public they are. In his role as Mayor the people who elected him fill the role of parent. They are the ones who can provide the negative feedback and consequences for his actions. They are the ones who can encourage him to get some help and take a break to do so. City Council has imposed a break on him, although they are really more like the teacher telling him to sit in the corner and have a time out. They do not have ultimate disciplinary power. They cannot kick him out, nor should they. He is the elected mayor and the only people who should have the power are the electors of the City of Toronto.
So far the people are not acting as parents. They are still supporting him – to the tune of 42% and as such that means his bad behaviour and deceit is being forgiven. That will not help him to learn how to be a better person or a better mayor. At some point city council is going to need to let him out of the corner and back to his usual seat. Then the question will be will we see a chastened Rob Ford who has learned some lessons and is willing to play nice with others or will we see the bully Rob Ford who will do what he can to take vengeance on those whom he feels betrayed him.
It might have been better for all concerned if council practiced a little parenting from the park bench.
***In the interests of full disclosure I did serve as advisor to George Smitherman in his role as Minister of Health and Long Term Care. He was Ford’s main competitor in the 2010 mayoral race. I was no longer a Toronto resident at the time of that election and was not a participant in any of the mayoral campaigns. ***