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February 2012
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Tommy Jordan: Parenting and Instant Fame in the Internet Age

Recently a North Carolina man named Tommy Jordan posted a video on Facebook in response to a letter his teenage daughter, Hannah, had written on Facebook. The video was intended as an “in kind” response to his daughter, but it went viral and now Tommy (and his family) is dealing with the downside of short-term fame.

I’ve watched the video, and read all of the subsequent posts he has made on his Facebook page. It’s an interesting story to follow on many levels. I’ll try to summarize it here, and then give my (probably incomplete) perspective on the whole thing.

The story as I understand it

Some time back (months, I think), Hannah had done something “stupid” on Facebook. I don’t know what that was, but it seems like it was some form of acting out. In any case, it was something that clearly broke her parent’s rules for her behavior. Apparently her punishment was to lose computer (or possibly just Facebook) access for a while. Her parents were clearly unhappy and also told her that if it happened again, he would put a bullet through the computer.

After the punishment was over, some time went by and then Hannah posted a letter addressed to her parents on her Facebook page – except she blocked that letter from everyone in her “family” and “church” groups in an effort to avoid her parents seeing it. The letter was an invective-filled message complaining about how unfair her life was. She has to go to school and do chores, for example. There wasn’t much in there that doesn’t seem like standard teen complaining. As I said, however, it was invective-filled, layered in spiteful, angry language, and showed a severe disrespect toward both her parents and their friends. And it was published on the internet to around 450 people.

Eventually Tommy ran across the letter (how that happened is actually kind of funny, and was the dog’s fault), and he was understandably hurt and angered by it. He made the decision to film himself reading the letter verbatim, and then responding to a few of the points, and delivering the news of her punishment. He finished the video off by shooting his daughter’s laptop 9 times.

In a short time the video went viral and he was the subject of national news coverage. He has been invited on local and national news and magazine shows, including Good Morning America (who camped out on his front lawn). CBS has offered him his own show. He has turned them all down and has chosen to respond solely through his Facebook page.

He has received a lot of attention on his Facebook page, unsurprisingly. Some people are praising him, and others have apparently gone so far as to call for his death. The police and social services have visited and interviewed both him and his family due to numerous calls from random people who have seen the video (I gather that none know the  family personally).

That’s pretty much where it stands as of this writing. There is some further detail obviously, but you can get that at his page (and I’ll probably quote some of it below).

My Take on the parenting side

First off, I’ll say that I sympathize with him. Raising kids is hard and at times extremely frustrating. I’m not sure that I would have gone the same route myself – at a minimum, I’m too cheap to destroy a valuable laptop – but I understand how he got there, and I’m in no position to state that what he did was wrong. He did what every parent does: he disciplined his child in the manner that seemed to him to be correct at the time. Was it the right way? I don’t know. It could certainly be argued that he had a myriad of other options, as we all do. There is no one right way. From what I have read, it can definitely be said that he was consistent with his disciplinary style and followed through on his previous statement: he said if she violated the rules again, he would shoot the computer, and he did.

This may come as a wild shock to some [...]

I’m NOT a hero… of ANY kind… at all.
I’m not a super-dad, or awesome parent.

I’m a normal guy with reasonable a moral compass that I try very hard to keep pointed north. I make a LOT of mistakes. Did I say a LOT? I mean a WHOLE lot! Daily… sometimes hourly!

That was from one of his Facebook updates. He goes on to say that he did make some mistakes in that video and recounts what they are, but on the whole, even in retrospect, he stands by it.

The two biggest criticisms I’ve seen of his parenting is that he embarrassed the child by responding on Facebook (the inferences being that he himself acted like a child, he has destroyed his relationship with her, and that she’s scarred for life), and that he violently dispensed justice on the computer (which obviously means that he’s a disturbed, violent father that abuses his daughter psychologically, if not physically).

Those accusations, without further evidence to back them up, are just plain absurd; and they are serious accusations, not to be entered lightly. Just because you don’t agree with how he handled it doesn’t make it abuse. As I already said, I don’t think I would have handled it exactly the same, but then again, I don’t know everything that went on previously to get him to this point. How many warnings did she get? How effective have previous punishments been? How many other times and how many other ways has she pushed her luck, and to what degree? Those are just surface questions. Then there’s more about her personality and learning style. What does it take to get through to her, basically? And their relationship… loving, adversarial, indifferent? I don’t have the answer to any of those questions, but based on what he said about the social services and police visits, they think he’s doing a pretty good job… plus he’s actually open to learning more about parenting. So I don’t have any complaints.

At the end of the day, no I’m not losing my kids, no one’s in danger of being ripped from our home that I know of, and I actually got to spend some time with the nice lady and learn some cool parenting tips that I didn’t know.. I use them on my 8 year old son, but not on my fifteen year old daughter.. but now I will! There were a few things I thought she was “too old” for, but after talking to the case worker, I feel like it’s worth a shot to try them.

And if my daughter would have talked about my friend and publicly (and flippantly) called her the cleaning lady? She would be apologizing to her both publicly and privately, cleaning my friend’s house, and babysitting her kids. That’s in addition to the other punishments. If there was nothing else in Hannah’s letter, that alone would have sent me over the edge.

You guys caught me on eight and a half minutes of ONE day in my life, probably the worst day in my life as a father. So, all in all, I consider the vast overwhelming show of support to be very very gratifying… that was me at my worst, not my best. If most of you found me OK as a Dad at that time, then I’m definitely OK the rest of the time. I was angry, hurt as hell, emotional as can possibly be, and stunned still. I’d taken an hour to compose myself, but apparently I should have waited longer..

In the final analysis, maybe he should have given himself a little more time to cool off before making the video, but given what I’ve subsequently seen on his page, I think he did fine.

My Take on the fame side

The other part of this is the sudden attention he’s receiving, and how he’s handling that. Again, I give the guy kudos. He’s turned down what I’m sure were some very lucrative offers. I’m not sure I could have done that, but I wholeheartedly believe he made the right decision. He’s doing his best to control the conversation by using his Facebook page as his only communication vehicle.

I really think he said it well in his post on the subject:

While we appreciate the interest you’re all putting forth to get in touch with us regarding the video, we’re not going to go on your talk show, not going to call in to your radio show, and not going to be in your TV mini-series.

Some of you think I made an acceptable parenting decision and others think I didn’t. However, I can’t think of any way myself or my daughter can …respond to a media outlet that won’t be twisted out of context. The Dallas news TV news already showed that in their brief 5 minute interview with the psychologist.

Additionally, there’s absolutely NO way I’m going to send my child the message that it’s OK to gain from something like this. It would send her a message that it’s OK to profit at the expense of someone else’s embarrassment or misfortune and that’s now how I was raised, nor how she has been raised.

So I say thank you from all of us. If we have anything to say, we’ll say it here on Facebook, and we’ll say it publicly, but we won’t say it to a microphone or a camera. There are too many other REAL issues out there that could use this attention you’re giving us. My daughter isn’t hurt, emotionally scarred, or otherwise damaged, but that kind of publicity has never seemed to be to have a positive effect on any child or family.

Perfect response. I don’t think I have anything to add.

He also now has other people pretending to be him online. That opens up the possibility of legal issues and, more importantly, the potential for some unstable person to get mad at something an imposter said and take it out on Tommy. So he warned those types of people to take their sites down before the lawsuits start. It’s worth noting that he’s only pursuing those who are creating dangerous situations for him, not normal people who have “I hate Tommy” or “I love Tommy” pages.

Sounds reasonable to me.

I’ll end here with his own take on how he looks at the news now.

It’s really amazing, to see how “news” gets spun from the from the other end of the limelight. I’m not talking about any of the video stuff, parenting concepts or anything else… just watching “pure fact” get created out of thin air is amazing. Makes me wonder how much of the news I usually read should be doubted. I’ve never been on the other end of the news before, so it’s different when I actually KNOW the facts and can compare them to the information flying around.

We should all be a little more discerning in what we take as fact. There is always more than one side to a story, and if you don’t get multiple perspectives, the odds are you aren’t getting the whole story.

Oh… and though he’s not taking it too seriously, he doesn’t seem to be above using his fame in at least one way…

Can my temporary fame influence the franchise owners of Krispy Kreme to put one a little closer?

Seems like a worthwhile goal (though personally, I’m a Dunkin man.)

Final Thoughts

I think Tommy may have acted too quickly and perhaps would have handled it differently if he’d have taken time to cool off, but I honestly have no problem with this approach. I think his daughter may quite possibly learn her lesson this time.

I have a lot of respect for his handling of the media requests and offers as well. I think that’s very smartly played.

I also think this turned into an unexpected opportunity for he and his family to learn about fame and the consequences of posting things on the internet. When you put something out there, it’s out there for life. Tommy could gain or lose customers in his business as a result of this. Hannah could gain or lose employment opportunities. While this is a drastic example, the principle holds true for all online communication. Don’t say it online if you don’t want it to follow you forever.

Whether you agree with how he handled it or not, perhaps we can all take some lessons from what has unfolded in Tommy’s life lately.

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