A child of the 50’s, when Eisenhower putted on the White House lawn, I grew up enthralled by the Philco my parents ostentatiously set up in the living room. From time to time there would appear grainy prints of two fine gentlemen on the screen of our Philco – one was thin and the other portly; they wore derby hats, and seemed to get into a lot of trouble with their wives, or cops, or anyone they happened to encounter. I could never get enough of them.
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy; two of the greatest clowns the cinema has ever produced. Their modus operandi was disarmingly simple; set them a simple task, such as delivering a piano, and then sit back and watch the catastrophe unfold.
As a child I could totally identify with Stan and Ollie. It seemed like I was often given simple chores that wound up being too complicated for me and resulted in unparalleled disaster. There was the time, for instance, when I was asked to bring a full gravy boat to the dinner table from the kitchen; a small misstep on my part landed the gravy boat on my father’s lap, instead of on the table . . .
Their active career as film clowns lasted twenty years, from 1927 to 1947. They made nearly one-hundred movies together during that time. They never claimed to be savants or Einsteins or anything but comedians; but the best comedy is always based on shrewd observation of human interactions, so if we look closely at the work of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, we may find a few tips on the Fine Art of Parenting, among other things:
- Pick your battles with your children. Laurel and Hardy went through life being picked on and cheated by all sorts of bullies and thugs. Usually, they would meekly submit to this. But every so often they would decide that enough was enough, that the Rubicon had been crossed, the die cast, and it was time to put up a fight. At which point a glorious slapstick contretemps would take place. With your children, just remember the same thing. Stan and Ollie did not let every little incident provoke them. So don’t let every little thing your children do provoke you into going off like a bottle rocket. Decide ahead of time just what behavior, what actions, call for the riot squad – and let the other stuff slide. Your children will soon learn what they can get away with relatively safely, and what will cause World War Three. Once those boundaries are in place you’ll have a better relationship with your kids, and they with you!
- Forgive and forget. The phrase “unconditional love” seems to have gone out of use, being replaced with ‘tough love’ or ‘consequence-based decisions’. But our old friends Stan and Ollie taught us in every film they made together that, at the end of the day, when the pies have been thrown and the roof has come crashing down once more, there is a time and place to shake hands, grin, and go on down the road to the next adventure, arm in arm. Do the same thing with your children. Put a time limit on the blame game; at the end of the day, after the dishes are done and the laundry halfway folded, take a moment to let your kids know you appreciate them, despite the broken promises and/or rude behavior. It’s a crazy world out there, as L & H so often found out to their cost, so give your children a hug, or something equivalent, to let them know you’re in their corner, and not about leave them out to hang by themselves. Results may not be immediate, but the cumulative effect will someday come back to bless you and them.
- Finally, try a little music together. One of the most charming events in any L & H film is the little musical numbers they did together. To this day, audiences are genuinely touched by the grace of Ollie’s tenor singing voice and the joy in Stan’s adept Music Hall dance steps. So share some music with your children. It’s easy enough to criticize the awful stuff they may listen to nowadays, but try instead to involve them in some of the music you listened to when you were young; you’ll be surprised at the dialogue this can open up between you; “You really liked that stuff?” Try going to a classical concert together; they’re usually cheap, and afterwards (if you want) you can bond by complaining how BORING it was! Sometimes a shared misery is just a good a way of bonding as a positive experience!
Take a few tips from our old buddies, Laurel & Hardy, and you and your children may become, in Stan’s words, “Just like two peas in a pot!”
Tim Torkildson is a former circus clown. He settled down to raise a family on a farm in North Dakota and eventually he and his wife Amy had eight kids. He currently works as a free-lance blogger for farm companies such as http://my.cropfax.com/