I think the most memorable lesson I ever learned about becoming an adult occurred at the most unexpected place and time: in a crowded restaurant on Secretary’s Day, April 1986. Still a teenager and a freshman in college, I had a part-time job at a local furniture manufacturing company. My dad was an executive there, and had helped me get a job as a file clerk in the personnel office. I remember being excited to find out that each year on that day, all the bosses took their clerical staff out to lunch. As a starving college student, I was always up for a free lunch.
To make it easy for everyone, the company reserved every seat in a local restaurant. About fifty managers and more than a hundred “secretaries” showed up that day. In preparation for so many guests, the restaurant prepared only two meal options: a club sandwich and quiche Lorraine.
It’s important to recognize that this event happened shortly after the publication of the bestselling book Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche by Bruce Feirstein — a tongue-in-cheek look at the feminization of the American male. So as the waitress was making her rounds taking orders, it was no surprise that all the men ordered the club sandwich. Until they got to my dad, that is, who was sitting within earshot of me. He looked up from the menu and said,
Hmm . . . I’ve never had quiche before. I tell you what, why don’t you bring me half a quiche and half a club sandwich. That way, if I don’t like the quiche, I’ll still have the sandwich.
Within seconds, the abuse began. The men at the table called my father’s masculinity into question in more creative ways than I had imagined possible at that point in my life. Awkward and embarrassing don’t begin to describe how it feels for a boy still in his teenage years to watch his father be ridiculed in such a manner. Needless to say, when it was my turn to order, I quickly picked the club sandwich.
After ten or fifteen minutes of ribbing, my father seemed to have had enough and called the waitress back over. “Thank God!” I thought. “Just pacify these jerks and let’s get on with lunch.” The waitress arrived and Dad said, as expected, “I’m sorry. I need to change my order. I ordered half a quiche and half a club sandwich.” Howls of success and a round of high fives erupted at the table as the other men celebrated their victory. Their aim had been to break my father’s will with their ridicule, and apparently they had just done it.
What came next, however, shocked me and everyone else. He continued,
Take back the half a club sandwich and bring me the whole damn quiche!
A stunned silence fell over the table of now slack-jawed men.
To this day, I still don’t know if my father likes quiche. But on that particular day he ate every bite with a smile on his face.
My respect and admiration for my father rose to a whole new level that day. He showed everyone at that table that he was man enough to eat anything he liked and didn’t care what they thought about it. He showed them that he refused to be defined by their particular social norms. And he showed me, his son, something of what it means to be a real man.
How your kids can apply it to their situation
Almost 30 years later, I have two sons of my own. I’ve shared this story with both of them on several occasions when I saw them confronting peer pressure. My goal, of course, is to give them the courage to stand up to that pressure, but also to give them a successful way to respond that doesn’t involve capitulating or getting in a fight.
So if a classmate teases my son Matthew that his pants aren’t sagging off his waist enough, as is unfortunately fashionable these days, now I simply prompt him, “Have you tried eating the whole quiche, son?” Recalling the story, he’d then follow the example set by my father. Instead of doing less of what he’s being teased for, he’d do it more! He’d pull his pants up even higher and say, “There, is that better?”
You can imagine the confused look on his tormentor’s face and the response, “No, you dummy, I said they’re too high! Pull them down!” Another tug and his pants are now up to mid-torso, followed quickly by “How about now?” You can see how his adversary would quickly become exasperated and just give up.
If your child ever struggles with peer pressure, and who’s doesn’t, share this story and ask them, “Have you tried eating the whole quiche?”
Sharing this story with your kids
As with all the stories in these stories, I encourage you to share this with your kids, and then have a discussion about it. Here are some questions to get you started.
- What would you have ordered for lunch that day? Why?
- Has anyone ever teased you for something you did? What was it, and how did you react?
- What ideas does this story give you for how to react the next time someone teases you for something?
- When do you think it might be a good idea to avoid conflict and just do whatever the crowd wants you to do?
[You can find this and over 100 other character-building stories in my book, Parenting with a Story.]
Paul Smith is one of the world’s leading experts on business storytelling. He’s a keynote speaker, storytelling coach, and bestselling author of the books Lead with a Story and Parenting with a Story.
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