- Tommy got praise and criticism for his parenting methods
- He says Thomas gets it now and has been doing school work over spring break
(CNN)He got a lot of attention when he called out his son on some poor grades by holding up a sign at not one but two NBA games.
But Thomas' dad insists this isn't about him.
"Thomas is the story, not me," his dad, Tommy, told CNN Friday. "I don't believe in the hype."
Tommy, who declined to give his last name, has gotten a lot of calls from TV shows and media outlets since pictures of him and his signs went viral.
At the Cleveland Cavaliers-Charlotte Hornets game March 24, his professionally-made poster announced: "Thomas get your grades back up and next time you'll be here. Love, Dad."
That one had to hurt. Thomas, 12, is a huge Cavs fan, his dad said.
"He loves LeBron, he loves Kyrie, Kevin Love, all of those guys. He loves the Cavs."
Tommy was going to take his son to the game, but a recent parent-teacher conference -- and some low marks Thomas got on tests and projects -- made him rethink his decision.
Sunday at the Houston Rockets-Oklahoma City Thunder game, the dad held up another huge sign: "Thomas can you hear me now? STUDENT then ATHLETE son. In that order. Love, Dad."
Some people criticized him, saying he was publicly shaming his son.
"My message is not to fight back (to the people saying that). ... My pride would want me to, but my God would want me to be still, so I will be still," Thomas' dad said. "This had nothing to do with shame."
Others praised his tough love: not letting his son attend the games because he hadn't worked hard enough at school.
"I've had calls from principals, superintendents, teachers, anybody that ... has anything to do with education has come to me unanimously and said, 'Thank you,'" he said.
Thomas' dad was kind of surprised, he said, when some television shows and news stations canceled interviews with him when they were told he wouldn't bring his (now famous) son along, too.
"I didn't want America to put a face with his name," his dad said.
This was never about getting attention for himself. It was about sending a message to his son, one that would get through after other methods had failed.
"I decided that everything that traditionalists would think would work is not working with our young people. I love my son enough to do whatever it takes to work -- this was just a spark. There's no way on earth I would have thought in a million years it would turn out like it did."
Thomas' dad lives in St. Louis, where his son is attending his first year of private school. His last name, Tommy said, isn't important.
"My name doesn't matter. I'm Thomas' dad."
His motivation for not giving his last name doesn't have anything to do with trying to remain anonymous. It comes from the Bible, Tommy said, and demonstrates the sacredness of his relationship with his son.
"In the Bible, it talked about the disciple whom Jesus loved. ... 'Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved ran to a cave,'" he quoted. "I thought to myself, why wouldn't they just say his name? It was so much easier to just say John, but it spoke volumes about how your relationship speaks for itself. I don't even have to say the name, so I'm just the guy who loves Thomas."
Your environment doesn't have to define you
The guy who loves Thomas is a single dad who has three other kids as well. And they're all getting that same love, attention and dedication.
"We sit down and have family meetings all the time, and they roll their eyes to the back of their head because they say I'm long-winded, but we talk about the fact that I would never want (them) to be a public success and a private failure," he said.
"I preach to my kids that we don't have to be 'hood because we live in the 'hood. No matter whose pants you see sagging, no matter who you see getting high ... that doesn't have to be our story because it's around us. We can be one group that makes a change that, you never know who's watching, it could affect."
To that point, Tommy says, he drove his family to Ferguson in 2014 following the riots and looting that erupted after Michael Brown was fatally shot by police.
"It wasn't because I felt like what happened to Mike was not an injustice -- I felt like it was an injustice -- but I showed my children that what we did as a people as a response was not how you respond. This is not how you do this. We took brooms, we took dustpans, we took trash bags, and we helped clean up the QuikTrip parking lot."
Mandarin is hard -- but you have to try your best
Mandarin was one of the subjects that tripped Thomas up in the first semester.
"He just kind of got frustrated and quit. ... I told him, I don't care if you ever can speak Mandarin, what I care about is that your school requires two years of Mandarin. There's no way for us to go around this course, so we have to go through it. I need you to focus and do your best, and at the end of the day if your best is a 58 or a 72, I don't care, I need you to try," Thomas' dad told him.
"But the point was, he doesn't have a choice," Tommy says. "This is not going to be the only time in life that he's got to do something that he doesn't want to do, and that you yourself don't even understand."
He wasn't hard on him, Tommy says.
"In love, I expressed how I felt," he says, and he told Thomas: "Life's going to be much harder than Mandarin."
Let them know they can ask for help
Tommy says in this age of the Internet and instant fame, kids too easily believe that everyone else is living the good life they post on social media.
But "people are going crazy, committing suicide, doing terrible things because they don't want anybody else to know they're not OK. So if you're not OK, it's OK, tell me what you need! It's my job to help you. Whatever you need, I'll help you. There's nothing that I can't talk to you about, and if you feel like you can't talk to me about it, talk to your brother."
Be connected, but change the Wi-Fi password
"The only way I can get my kids to focus at dinner is if I change the Wi-Fi code. Otherwise, everybody is in their room -- and America won't tell the truth about that -- everybody is in their room, doors closed, on the laptop, on the tablet, on the phone, playing games, texting, tweeting.
"We've got a rule: You can't even bring your phone to the dinner table. Put your phones away! Otherwise, I wouldn't even talk to anybody when I come home. So I change the Wi-Fi code, and everybody comes out of their rooms, 'cause everybody needs the Wi-Fi code, so everybody wants to talk to me now."
Trust but verify
Thomas has been working on improving his grades over spring break.
"He gets it. I just feel like now that I have asserted myself in a different capacity, I also have to be just as assertive at home at the dinner table: What homework do you have? Let me see the homework. Not just trusting that it was done. Let me check the homework. I have to be dad with a little bit more involvement," Tommy says.
They'll get it -- eventually
Tommy says he talked to Thomas after his posters were plastered all over the Internet.
"He was disappointed in himself, not embarrassed. He felt horrible that he let me down."
"He's a great kid. Nobody that has ever met him doesn't like him. My son is such a better person than me. ... I could not have prayed or asked for a better kid. I don't care if he ever gets Mandarin. I'm proud of him because of who he is. Thomas is a good kid and all I'm trying to do is make sure that the same mistakes I made, my son doesn't repeat."
So will he eventually take Thomas to another NBA game?
"Definitely. Well, we'll see when his last report card comes out around the end of May."