It was the spanking heard ‘round the world.
Nick Crews, a retired British Royal Navy officer, made international headlines this week after an excoriating email to his three adult children was published in The Daily Telegraph. Fed up with listening to his kids bemoan their career and marital mishaps, the 62-year-old former nuclear-submarine captain decided it was his turn to vent.
So he sent them the Crews Missile, as it is now referred to in Britain. “With last evening’s crop of whinges and tidings of more rotten news for which you seem to treat your mother like a cess-pit, I feel it is time to come off my perch,” Crews began, going on to lament the “miserable death throes” of his children’s collective marriages, their “copulation-driven” self-indulgence, the pitiable fate of his grandchildren, and the exasperation from “being forced to live through the never-ending bad dream of our children’s underachievement and domestic ineptitudes.”
Harsh! (Read the whole thing here.) But surprisingly for such a blistering parental salvo, response to the viral takedown was largely positive. For many, it appears to have become a new rallying cry for advocates of the anti-coddling, tough-love school of parenting codified by Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother manifesto, and more recently espouded in David McCullough Jr.’s “You Are Not Special” high-school commencement speech. On the other end of the reaction was New York Times columnist David Brooks, who wrote that “no matter how emotionally satisfying these tirades may be, they don’t really work.”
Even more surprising, perhaps, was the reveal that Crews’s daughter, Emily Crews-Montes, had leaked the Crews Missile herself. In fact, it was Emily that sparked her father’s screed; she recently moved to France to work as an amateur interpreter, and her phone calls back home—in which she discussed her difficulty adjusting to life as an expat—apparently got her father’s goat.
Crews-Montes sent it the letter to The Telegraph with the hope that it might garner her publicity for a self-help book she’s translating. One might think she got more than she bargained for. “I don’t care about the people who say I’ve committed a PR nightmare,” Emily, 40, told The Daily Beast. “This isn’t about me and my ego. It’s about a larger issue.”
The shamed daughter says at first she was “in shock” upon receiving the invective. Even her husband, a gruff French surgeon who is more “Tiger Mom” than doting dad, thought the email was a bit curt. Most upsetting to Emily, she says, was how her father focused only on his children’s weaknesses and “turned us into this monster.”
But it didn’t take long for the sting to wear off. “I had already moved forward with my life,” Emily says. “I’d translated a third of this self-help book which really helped me adjust to life in France.” Her parents didn’t see it at the time, she said, because she didn’t have a steady income as she did in the U.K., where she had worked as a buyer for a pharmaceutical company. “They heard me complaining about the realities of life in France, but they didn’t hear my commitment to being the agent of change in my own life.”
The Crews Missile may have had a more adverse effect on her siblings, who remain estranged from their father, Emily said. Taking up David Brooks’s argument, she compared her father’s email to a cattle prod. “For most people who are already in a vulnerable state, that kind of shock is more likely to discourage and paralyze them.”
Indeed, the elder Crews has told The Telegraph that he worries his son Fred, a 35-year-old taxi dispatcher, and his other daughter won’t forgive him and that they misinterpreted his email, which “wasn’t meant as a furious dressing-down; more like a finger raised to my lips in church, when I spotted them picking their nose.”
His intended message was something they might have heard from a prefect at one of the classic British boarding schools they attended: “Pull your socks up and get on with it.” But in another context, Emily said, “it’s an explicit example of the kind of feedback that stops people from going on with their lives.”
Still, she doesn’t think the email was totally unwarranted.
“None of us have maximized our potential,” Emily admits of herself and her siblings. After graduating from the prestigious Exeter University with a psychology degree and earning postgraduate degrees in both purchasing and occupational psychology, she could have moved up the corporate ladder in the U.K. “Instead I moved to Brittany where my education and work experience don’t count for anything. I don’t have assets or a good pension plan.”
For Emily Crews-Montes and her father, that’ll have to be good enough.