Don’t Start None, Won’t Be None: The Story of the Flame Shorts

Photo from

Y’all know I like to have a good laugh every Monday, here at More Cowbell, right? In honor of that tradition, I’m going to share the funniest parenting story I’ve ever heard.

Any of you who’ve ever hung out with twelve year-old boys know that when smart mouths were handed out, the “tween” boys were first in line.

Their hormones are flowing faster than their brains  and nine times out of ten, a 12 year-old is a mouthy demon. It takes parents with a dash of scary and a dash of genius to keep up with these boys.

I used to be close family friends with a man we’ll call David, and his son, who we’ll call Brian. This is their story, in all its glory. David was one of the best dads I’ve ever seen in my life, and well able to stay ahead of his kids, as you’ll see.

One day, during a huge home remodeling project, David rounded up all three of his children for a trip to Home Depot.

It was summer in Southern California and the two younger kids came running out to the car in shorts and t-shirts. Twelve year-old Brian came out of the house in jeans and a black hooded sweatshirt.

The conversation between father and son went like this:

David: Brian, you can’t go to the store in that sweatshirt. You need to go change.

Brian: Dad, I’m fine! I like this sweatshirt. It’s cool.

David: It’s 90 degrees outside, Brian. CHANGE your shirt, please.

Brian drew himself up to his full height, straightened his sweatshirt with quite a bit of dignity and said, “Dad! I’m twelve years old. I think I’m old enough to decide what I want to wear.”

David stared at him long and hard (a less hormonal kid would have run for cover.)
But Brian was a 12 year-old in a “cool” sweatshirt so he just stared back, full of sass.

David: You don’t care that the people in the store will wonder WHY you’re dressed like this on a hot day? You don’t care that they’re going to look at me like I’m a bad father because I LET you leave the house like this?

Brian shrugged his shoulders. “This is what I want to wear.”

David said, “Really.” He pinned Brian with one more long stare, but the kid wasn’t budging. Finally, David said, “O-kay, son” and got in the car without another word.

Brian’s two younger siblings looked at their older brother like he was on crack and started whispering in the back seat.

As predicted, once they were at Home Depot, three separate people commented on Brian’s attire:

Photo from

  • Son, aren’t you warm in that?
  • Are you sick? It’s 90 degrees out!
  • Aren’t you dying in that sweatshirt?

And even though he started sweating at the end of the 2nd aisle they walked down, Brian doggedly insisted he was fine.

Like any father worth his salt, David said nothing more about the sweatshirt and quietly plotted his revenge.

Fast-forward to an afternoon in October…

Brian bolted inside his front door after school, yelling at the top of his lungs for his dad. It was his first parent/teacher conference in middle school and he was all fired up. “DAD!!! Are you home? Hurry up, we’re going to be late for my teacher meetings. Da-a-a-a-d!”

David strolled down the hall like he had all the time in the world. “Throttle back, dude, I’m ready. Is there any paperwork we need to take?”

Brian remained frozen in the entryway, staring in horror at his father, who was dressed like a combination of these two guys below.

Imagine this body... (Photo from THIS outfit. (Photo from

 David’s 2x belly was inadequately covered in a tight tank top and he wore black board shorts with flames shooting up his legs. Birkenstocks covered his pale hairy feet. He smiled at Brian and jingled his keys. “Earth to Brian! Is there any paperwork I need to fill out before we go?”

“Dad,” Brian croaked. “You CAN’T go to the meeting like that!”

David remained cheery. “Why not, son of mine? I LOVE these shorts!”

Brian couldn’t muster anything more than a horrified whisper. “Dad, you CAN’T. You just can’t wear that to see my teacher.”

David leaned down close, so his son had to look him in the eye. “Brian. I’m forty-three years old. I think I’m old enough to decide what I want to wear. Isn’t that what you told me the last time I told you your clothes were inappropriate for the occasion?”

And with that, he walked out the front door, whistling.

Brian flew outside, babbling about the shorts and the flames and the Birkenstocks. He ran over to stand in front of the driver’s side door, his arms splayed out to block his dad’s entrance to the car.

David gave him the ol’ Dad hairy eyeball and said, “Get in the car, son. NOW.”

None of his kids ever disobeyed him when he used that tone and Brian dragged himself around to the passenger side, with tears starting to leak out of his eyes. After they fastened their seatbelts, Brian started wailing: “Really, Dad?? You’re REALLY going in dressed like that? I can’t walk into my classes with you dressed like that!”

David turned his head to back out of the driveway and glanced at Brian. “We’re going.”

Brian just sat in his seat, a blubbering shaking shell of his former self.

Halfway down their cul-de-sac, David pulled the car over and turned and looked at his son. “It would really mean a lot to you if I changed into a different outfit, wouldn’t it?”

Brian was nearly incoherent by now. He hiccuped and nodded, tears streaming down his face.

“And the next time I ask you to change your clothes, what’s your answer going to be?”

“Y-y-yes, Da-a-ad!”

David flipped a u-turn and parked back his driveway. “I love you, son,” he said before he went into the house to change.

When I heard this story, I laughed so hard I started crying. At the time I wished to be that tricky some day when I had kids. I’ve got one now, and I hope to do half as good a job as David did.

What do you think? Was he too harsh or was this the perfect way to deal with a pre-teen? I want to hear from the parents AND the non-parental types. Enquiring minds LOVE to know these things here at More Cowbell!


About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm ( Write on!
This entry was posted in Humor, Parenting and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

63 Responses to Don’t Start None, Won’t Be None: The Story of the Flame Shorts

  1. K.B. Owen says:

    Perfect. I’d never have the nerve to carry that out, though. I’m afraid my kids would be on to me in a heartbeat. Great story, Jenny!


  2. If my mother still had her senses and if my teachers were still around, they would ask in unison, “You mean some of them outgrow their smart mouths?” I couldn’t get away with it around my dad, though. I’d have been picking myself up off the ground and running into the house to change.

    In a way, I liked David’s handling of the situation. It undoubtedly produced a lifelong memory. On the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for making discipline swift while the deed is still fresh in everyone’s mind.


  3. Wow, what a fantastic story! I like David’s handling of the situation as well. Rather than freak out and yell at the kid about the sweatshirt, he had more meaningful ways to teach his son. And… they now have a story to tell for decades to come.

    Great post, Jenny.


  4. Julie Glover says:

    I like this story! Potential embarrassment is a powerful motivator for teens/tweens. When my boys were missing the school bus too often this year, I tried all sorts of reason on them. What finally got through was that I told them if they missed the bus, I would drive them to school in WHATEVER I happened to be wearing at the time. I have twice driven one son to school in my pajamas, but when I almost walked him to the door the second time in pajama pants, a robe, and slippers, I think he got the message. He hasn’t missed since! 😉


  5. It’s all about picking your battles, and plotting the revenge — er — parenting lesson. I LOVE the way he handled this situation. Twelve-year-old Brian learned something most tweens don’t learn until they hit their twenties:

    His Dad’s IQ did not dip below room temp in an igloo when Brian’s hormones and independence surged.

    But, I DO agree with David. No WAY would we have survived defiance after THE LOOK. Which is why I’m grateful my dad was a long-haul truck-driver and Mom worked shifts at a department store. TEAM A (four sisters and I) ruled when home alone!


  6. Okay, that was just an awesome post, Jenny! So many memories… 😀 Love it!


  7. Love this story Jenny! Yep— preteens get the trophy for being smart mouths. Payback is oh so sweet especially when it’s all wrapped up in a lesson of love as this father did.

    Not sure I can get the picture of the guy in the cut-out overalls off my mind though. Way to illustrate a point. LOL!


  8. Carrie says:

    Absolutely perfect. And I agree, that cut out overalls picture will haunt my dreams for a long, long time. =)


  9. lwsapir says:

    AWESOME! I think the key to pulling this off would be that you have to be willing to go the distance. I mean, if his son hadn’t prevailed upon him to change, I get the feeling that David would have been perfectly fine going into the meeting in the flame shorts. Best. Parenting. Story. Ever.
    Thanks for sharing this one, Jenny!


  10. Laura Drake says:

    I can’t decide – I’m too busy throwing up over the “pale hairy feet” part.

    Oh when will I learn not to read Monday’s blog BEFORE I eat breakfast?


  11. Freaking genius. For real. That dad needs an award. I’m in awe, and I’m bookmarking this post for future reference.


  12. Hilarious! A little embarrassment goes a long way and makes for fantastic stories. 🙂


  13. FANTASTIC!!! LMAO!!! I mean, you gotta get their attention somehow and sometimes the most effective way is to give them the opportunity to “see” how it feels. Unfortunate but…you gotta do what works, right?! Kudos to David for thinking outside the box. Woot woot!


  14. Jessica O'Neal says:

    LMAO!! This is ingenious! There is no way that I would have gotten away with defying “the look” and none of the kids I have ever worked with have been allowed to continue defiance once “the look” or “the tone” have come out, but this was still brilliant. Thank you for the laugh, Jenny!


  15. What a great story. Thanks for starting my morning out right!


  16. Elena Aitken says:

    I LOVE it!! This is totally something I would do. I’m a huge fan of natural consequences and that’s a pretty good one. And…funny!


  17. amyshojai says:

    AWESOME! This is wonderful–something that SOMEONE should totally use in their fiction. Or nonfiction. Or something. LOL!


  18. That dad is a man after my own heart! I absolutely would’ve done the same thing (and probably have, if memory serves). Humiliation is a mighty fine punishment for children. Why do you think we take so many pictures of them as naked babies!


  19. geostan51 says:

    It’s almost too much of an irony to be overwhelmingly funny. The kid got what was coming to him, alright. I agree, it’s a classic story. I’m not a father, but I’ve had some interaction with kids. I would never be able to come up with a revenge like that one, if I had forever to think about it.


  20. Having such an animal in my house… PERFECT!!!!

    I am so sharing this with That Man. Aw…I can see it playing out now…


  21. Honestly…I’m not to keen on the Dad’s response. I’m a big believer in natural consequences whenever possible. I think my response the sweatshirt thing would have been: “It’s pretty hot out. You want to change into something cooler before we go?” To hell with what the other people think. I know I’m a good mom. They can think what they like. If my kiddo still wanted to wear the sweatshirt, I’d not say anything else. Being hot and uncomfortable is lesson enough. No need to engage in a battle over a sweatshirt. Seriously. Save the big guns for the big stuff. LOL

    Now, if we’re talking body modification, slutty attire, gang related clothing, etc, then I’d make a fuss. To me, clothing is just clothing for the most part. And I don’t want to push the lesson that other people’s opinions should dictate everything we wear…after all, how can we tell them not so succumb to peer pressure when we pressure them because we care about what everyone thinks of us?

    I have 2 kiddos…both of who have already had some fun clothing issues to deal with. My daughter went through a nudist phase. Wanted to wear nothing all day long. I made a deal with her…she could wear nothing at home when it was just us (mom, dad and her). After all, she was only 2-3! When we went out, she could ride in the car seat in just her diaper (it was summer during this part of her nudist phase). When we got where we were going, she’d get dressed without a fuss. My son went through the same thing at the same age and we handled it the same way. The nudist phase passed. Then it was the mismatched clothing when they were first learning to dress themselves. Unless we had church or something else special, I let them pick what they wanted to wear…including the blue power rangers costume my son insisted was robot costume. Pick your battles and all that.

    Now, they generally choose reasonable clothing. When I do have an issue with something, I let them know. And they generally respond positively because I rarely make a big fuss unless it’s really a big deal. And, when my kiddos want to wear a sweater on a hot day or no coat on a cold day, I just ask them to bring back up…just in case. Hopefully, this lack of clothing battle will carry over to their teen years *fingers crossed*

    Sorry for the epic comment *blush*. This is kind of a touchy issue for me. To me, it’s all about not making everything a battle with our kids. There’s enough we’ll battle with them on later. If we’re always battling, they start to tune us out. Nothing’s a big deal to them because everything is to us. But, if we let them have as much decision making as they can actually handle (and not just what we think they can handle), our input is more valuable. We’re not always at odds with them, so they have less to rebel about. Just my take so far…from memories of my own teenage hood (rebelling against too much control) and my experience with my kiddos (though I realize they’re only 9 and 6 so I don’t have experience with a teen yet).

    And, to me, what does “revenge” encourage but more revenge?


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I totally get where you’re coming from, Sonia. Does it make you feel any better that Brian was going through a homeboy stage with the sweatshirt, and that David had let it go a ton of times already? I think he tried the peer pressure example out of desperation, not because he really cared what the people in Home Depot thought of him as a father.

      I love your comments – don’t ever worry about speaking your mind over here!


      • 😀 It’s tough to be a parent. So many decisions. So many responsibilities. And so much guilt. We all put a lot on ourselves. I didn’t mean to sound so critical. I’m blaming it on the full moon. 😀


  22. Coleen Patrick says:

    I would never be able to pull off the outfit–my kids would’ve called my bluff. Really all it takes now is threatening to take away their phone or turning off the internet. Far, far easier.


  23. tomwisk says:

    You know a bunch of smart parents. Don’t have kids but truly love listening to stories about child rearing. I baby sat two nieces. My view was let them wear what they want, take a polaroid and use it for blackmail when they get older.


  24. Emma says:

    Good on Dad! Kids can be so stubborn.


  25. Love it! It was a great way to pull a tween’s head out of his…er, behind. They are so focused on self that they don’t see what’s around them. This made him stop, think, and analyze. All skills he’s gonna need later in life. If I’d been the Dad, I probably would have gone on in the school LOL. I expected him to. But I like how he did it. Wish I’d heard this story back when I was watching my niece and nephews. One of them insisted on going to school looking like a homeless person. Not sure what I’d have worn to make the point to him, but I bet I could have come up with something!


  26. Oh, how this story sounds so like the many battles we had in our house. My husband would have handle it the same way! Oh yeah, payback time. And it was the perfect lesson. It’s called growing pains and all kids have them. We parents just have to out smart them and we have good memories! 🙂


  27. hawleywood40 says:

    Not at all too harsh – PERFECT : ). A lesson learned, a hilarious memory, and an “I love you” at the end.


  28. love it. he has the knack of dealing with a kid in their language and coin. well done. wish I could do that.


  29. Jody Moller says:

    Perfect response. My personal fav true stories for dealing with teenagers. 1) two kids fighting over the xbox – dad takes the xbox and cuts in half with a circular saw and gives each kid half (wish I had the money to try this out). 2) obnoxious daughter who is a fan of storming off and slamming the door to conclude and argument – dad removes the door and stashes it under the house, teenage daughter has now lost all her privacy.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      OMG…they CUT the X-Box in half??? WOW. That’s some serious stuff – don’t they cost like $300+?

      The door I’ve heard and seen plenty of times, but the X-Box solution is a new one.


  30. Jane Sadek says:

    I’m on the “I love it team”!


  31. OMG…this is THE greatest story! As a parent of a VERY mouthy, VERY sassy, VERY argumentative fourteen-days-until-I’m-12yrs old, I can appreciate this story. Whew…I’m sharing this one with Hubs for sure. 🙂


  32. LOL, Jenny. Good tactic. Our girl is starting the whole do her hair and clothes thing. So, I’m going to check out my wardrobe and see what I can do, might have to put on a few pounds for the belly though 🙂



  33. Catherine Johnson says:

    That was so funny I’ve got tears in my eyes. What a great way to handle teenagers. I hope I remember that one. Thanks Jenny!


  34. Catie Rhodes says:

    I don’t think he was too hard on the kid. The hard lessons are the ones you remember. When I was about that age, my parents wanted to teach me how to manage my money.

    They gave me $100 for school clothes, and I paid for anything above that with money I earned working. This was the late 80s when a pair of jeans might cost $100, remember. I also paid for all my own activities.

    I quickly learned to assess what I *really* wanted and what was *really* worth my money. At the time, it was all terribly embarrassing. My friends seemed to have an endless stream of $$$ coming from their parents. However, I now appreciate the money management skills I learned when I was so young.


  35. Marcia says:

    Perfect! I pulled a similar stunt on my son when he was 14. He definitely got the point of my previous advice. That is the only way to make a pubescent child understand. Because the older they get – the more uncool, clueless and old school we become (in their minds, anyway).
    Hilarious, Jenny!


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