Journalist and novelist Andrew Martin is the author of the 'Jim Stringer' series of novels based around railways. He has written for the Independent on Sunday, the Evening Standard, the Sunday Times and the New Statesman among others.
Sunday 14 February 1999
"Sarah," he says, more sternly, "I'm warning you that I will get cross if you continue to play with those scissors." No response. "Sarah," he continues, "I will get very, very cross if you don't put those scissors down now." Again, no response, so my friend screams: "PUT THOSE BLOODY SCISSORS DOWN NOW YOU HORRIBLE LITTLE PEST!"
Then she, wailing hysterically, says: "Why did you get cross at me?"
My own children sometimes do what I tell them, but only if the instruction coincides with their own desires. I can never get them to do something that they don't actually want to do. But then again, I lack natural authority. If I might draw an analogy from the early Seventies LWT sitcom, Please Sir, then I'd be like Cromwell, the weak headmaster. All Cromwell had to do to cause a riot in form 5c was to walk into the classroom, and all he had to do for it to cease was to walk out.
Or, to take a more modern analogy, I feel, when dealing with my sons, like world leaders dealing with Saddam Hussein. My boys, in fact, have a sinister affinity with the Iraqi dictator, and it might be quite useful for statespersons trying to get to grips with the Butcher of Baghdad to have some sessions interacting with them. They would observe in my sons the same pattern of provocation, leading to reaction, leading to furious denunciation of that reaction, all interspersed with frequent demands for the reconstitution of the United Nations. (I'm only joking about that last bit, actually).
You'd think that, on becoming a father, you'd acquire some natural authority. It seems only fair. But all I've acquired is a knack for imaginative bribes and ridiculous threats. "If you don't go back to bed," I'll say to my two-year-old as he starts parading about the house at 4am, "I will ... call the police."
"You're not in charge," he'll indignantly reply, and how right he is. As to who is in charge ... I don't really know - perhaps my wife, who keeps the children in better order than I do, maybe because she's forever "respecting their feelings".
The other day, for example, my two-year-old was leaping off a high chair onto a pile of cushions located right next to a sharp table corner. "Stop being an idiot!" I shouted, to which my wife said: "Don't say that. He is not an idiot!"
But if leaping onto an unstable pile of cushions right next to a sharp edge doesn't constitute idiocy, then what does? That action might, surely, constitute the classic definition of idiocy in its purest form.
But then what do I know? I'm only their father.
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