Here's my theory about viral emails: There are only two reasons emails go viral on the Internet. They're either too good to be true or they're so true that they simply must be shared.
Think about it.
The supposed promise of $200 from Bill Gates just for forwarding a "test" email message to 10 of your contacts?
Riches to be shared with a Nigerian prince who needs your help hiding his vast wealth in your bank account (so please reply with your routing and account numbers)?
The Asian lotto winnings you can collect, even though you've never been to Asia and didn't buy a ticket?
These are the messages that ought to go straight to the spam folder, yet they've been circulating around the World Wide Web for years.
On the other hand, some emails take on Internet lives of their own because they ring so true that they speak for throngs of people, communicating exactly the sense and sentiment that millions of folks feel but apparently cannot express adequately.
You're probably thinking of that email that reminds the receiver that he or she is "exactly where God intends you to be" or the one that bashes the famous "Bridezilla" demands. (Haven't received these? You're possibly the only one on Earth.)
Now, an email sent this year from retired British nuclear submarine captain Nick Crews, 67, to his three adult children has taken the Internet by storm. The reason for its popularity?
Mr. Crews lambasted his three offspring for being "underachieving disappointments" who have screwed up their lives and "contrived to avoid even moderate achievement."
It gets worse. More of this father's scathing assessments of his children include:
"We are constantly regaled with chapter and verse of the happy, successful lives of the families of our friends and relatives and being asked of news of our own children and grandchildren. I wonder if you realise how we feel — we have nothing to say which reflects any credit on you or us."
"Fulfilling careers based on your educations would have helped — but as yet none of you is what I would confidently term properly self-supporting. Which of you, with or without a spouse, can support your families, finance your home and provide a pension for your old age?"
"I can now tell you that I for one, and I sense Mum feels the same, have had enough of being forced to live through the never-ending bad dream of our children's underachievement and domestic ineptitudes."
Mr. Crews concludes with a challenge to his children: Don't get in touch until you have turned your lives around.
The email was released (with permission) by one of Mr. Crews' daughters. She thought it would help publicize a book on which she is working, so hey, maybe all his children aren't complete losers. At least one of them knows the art of exploitation.
But the sordid saga of the email and the aftermath of family turmoil it has revealed is apparently uncomfortably familiar to older parents around the world.
Mr. Crews has questioned, in media interviews, whether his parenting is to blame for the lack of industriousness and fidelity he perceives in his children. He said the permissiveness he showed was the trend when they were young.
Yes, he was away on a naval vessel for much of the time, but he thinks perhaps when he was home he should not have been so indulgent.
I have the span of only a column, so I'll take Mr. Crews at his word. He could have done better, and he should have.
For the sake of his grandchildren, Mr. Crews decided "better late than never" and raised the bar of expectations for his adult children in an effort to stop the cycle of underachievement and immaturity.
His strategy may not work on his own children, but just imagine how many other families his viral message is reaching.
Someone just might listen.
• Marybeth Hicks is the author of "Don't Let the Kids Drink the Kool-Aid: Confronting the Left's Assault on Our Families, Faith and Freedom." Find her on the Web at http://marybethhicks.com.