In defence of the Eagle Dad

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kid in snow one

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Screenshot from the video.

London - All over the Western world, clucking mothers and furious fathers have been jabbing their computer keyboards to condemn He Liesheng, the Chinese ‘Eagle Dad’ who made his four-year-old son run almost naked through the New York snow in temperatures said to be minus 13c.

‘There are some people who should never have children,’ comments JS, of the US.

‘Two words... child abuse,’ says Tittle-tattle of Glasgow.

‘Oh my God, this is horrific, that poor little boy,’ writes Maureen Masi, expat of Pennsylvania. ‘Well, his father needs to be locked up and the child taken into care for his own safety.’

After watching the internet video, already seen by tens of thousands of others, I won’t pretend I can’t see why so many are angry.

For little Ho Yide, shivering in nothing but his yellow underpants and trainers, cuts a figure that would pulverise all but the stoniest of hearts as his businessman father instructs him to do press-ups in the snow and both his parents laugh at his pleas for a hug.

But should this really be a matter for the police? And would it really be doing the child a kindness to take him into care?

Wait just a moment while I don my tin helmet and flak jacket, and let me venture the case for the defence.

Certainly, Ho Yide looks unhappy throughout most of the 99-second video, as any of us might in our underpants on an icy New York street. But he makes considerably less fuss than I do every morning during the current cold snap, stumbling to the bathroom in my dressing gown.

And I can remember my sons, when they were about his age, looking ten times more distressed if I so much as denied them a second chocolate biscuit.

Indeed, one of my boys used to scream the house down if we dressed him in matching socks. ‘I hate matching!!! I hate it!!!’ Weird, I know, but true.

I would also point out that once or twice in the video, Ho Yide’s face lights up in a radiant smile. He’s not much liking his constitutional, I grant you - but a part of him thinks it’s fun.

And though I’m no medical expert, he looks to me like a tough little fellow, in robust health and unlikely to suffer any long-term harm from his ordeal (I’m assuming it didn’t last for more than a few minutes). Not physical harm, anyway. Psychological is anyone’s guess.

In further defence of the Eagle Dad - whose nickname is inspired by Amy Chou’s book, Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother, which describes the tough parenting style of the Chinese - I see no reason to doubt that he is fond of his son and has the boy’s interests at heart.

Rightly or wrongly, he believes he is toughening up the lad and helping him to develop a ‘masculine temperament’. With that same object in mind, he says, he is teaching him kung fu, dancing, cycling and mountain climbing.

And to illustrate his affection for his son, a photograph on the internet shows him with his arm around Ho Yide (warmly dressed) and reading a book with him.

‘He agreed to go out to run in the snow naked,’ says He Liesheng, who runs a bed linen company in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing and was in New York last month to see in the Year of the Dragon.

‘I also give him ice cream on winter days to train his stomach to get used to the cold. He rarely has a cold or fever.’

All right, I’m not at all convinced by the evidence of He Liesheng’s personal assistant, Xin Lijuan, who says the boy’s tough training regime has cured him of the health problems he suffered when he was born prematurely with water on the brain.

But few can deny he gives his son a great deal more kindly meant attention, for better or worse, than most British children can expect from their fathers (even if they happen to have one about the house).

If my guess is worth anything, Ho Yide is very much happier with his demanding dad than he would be if he were taken into care. Nor do I believe he will necessarily grow up to hate him, as so many who have commented suggest. Who knows? He may even have cause to thank him one day.

And there, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, rests the case for the defence.

So let me remove my helmet and bullet-proof jacket and assure you I would never have dreamed of treating a son of mine as mercilessly as He Liesheng treats his.

Indeed, if he is an Eagle Dad, feared and obeyed by his young, I suppose I must be a Budgie Dad - laughed at or ignored by mine.

When I embarked on this fatherhood business, I fully intended to be a tyrant about the house. I’d read all the books advising that children, particularly boys, need firm rules and boundaries to enable them to grow into happy, well-balanced and useful members of society.

So I resolved that I would insist on strict bedtimes, ration the boys’ TV viewing and force them to eat up their greens, tidy their bedrooms and keep their elbows off the table.

But somehow it just didn’t work out like that. Like so many of my indulgent generation, I fell into the fatal trap of wanting my sons to be my friends, yielding to their demands for just a little more time in front of the box before bed, giving up the unequal fight to make them sit up straight at the table and generally letting them get their own way in everything.

In the interest of family harmony, I hasten to say they are turning out well enough, all things considered.

But I’ve often thought I might have served them better if I’d been a little more cruel to be kind, a little less sparing of the rod.

Mind you, I don’t mean that last bit literally. For even in the early days of my tyrannical intentions, I was never much of a believer in corporal punishment - lashing out only under extreme provocation and only very occasionally if a boy happened to be within striking distance.

Indeed, I think the Tottenham Labour MP David Lammy was talking nonsense when he blamed last summer’s riots on the law forbidding parents to smack their children.

Does he really think that the rioters’ moms and dads stopped smacking their children the moment the law was passed? If so, he has a touching faith in the power of Parliament to over-rule human nature.

But it must be right to suggest we’ve done teenagers no favours by indulging their every whim, handing out prizes for all, dumbing down their exams and generally lowering our expectations of them.

After all, the mind of a child is astonishingly receptive. By the age of 12, my sons and almost all their schoolmates could tell you, from memory, the club histories, transfer fees and positions on the field of well over 100 professional footballers.

If their parents and teachers had only pushed them a little harder, isn’t it possible that one or two of them might have picked up the names and dates of a few kings and queens of England, too?

As it is, we ask little of them, tell them they’re brilliant - and then release them on to a jobs market where they are hit, for the first time in their lives, by the concepts of hard work and competition - or, for all too many of them, failure.

There must surely be a happy medium between the Budgie and the Eagle Dad. But the way things are going, we can all guess which of their progeny is more likely to conquer the world.

My money’s on Ho Yide. - Daily Mail

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