IT all started with Jessica. How I remember those cheerful conversations in the bathroom.
“Damn it, Jessica. I am brushing my teeth. Will you please stop turning the tap off?”
“You’re wasting water, Dad. Mr Curtis says you only need an eggcupful to brush your teeth.”
“Jessica, I don’t care what Mr Curtis says. I want to brush my teeth in the same way I’ve brushed them since I was a boy.”
“Wel,l you’re ruining the planet for future generations.”
“Life on Earth will not die out because I’m brushing my teeth. Turn the tap back on.”
Yep, happy days. And then I’d wander downstairs and have a discussion with Tom.
“I need to get my books ready.”
“Damn it, Tom, I’m already late for work. Why didn’t you get your books ready last night?”
Because he never did. Why didn’t I learn? Because I’m a parent.
But it’s all changed now. Tom and Jessica safely at university. Just the perfectly-behaved, well-organised Ben at home. No repeat of the previous problems.
Not until last week…
“Damn it, Ben, I’m already late for work. Why didn’t you get your books ready last night?” (As you can see, my script hasn’t changed over the years…)
“Because you made me do my homework.”
Of course. How careless of me.
Ben gets his revenge by subjecting me to the silent treatment as I give him a lift to school. I don’t cope with frosty silence very well: give me a full blown rant from Jessica any day.
By the time we reach the fourth set of red traffic lights I can’t stand it any more. I have to say something.
“You can’t be Mr. Grumpy all morning. I heard a good joke the other day. Would you like to hear it?”
Silence. Of course he wouldn’t. But he’s going to.
“There was this Red Indian chief, and the tribe came - ”
“Native American, Dad. Only racists say ‘red indian’ these days.”
Is that success? He’s spoken to me – even if it is a bollocking from the PC department.
“OK, there was a Native American chief and the members of the tribe came to him and said - ”
“How do you know it was a ‘him?’”
“What? Well it’s a historical fact isn’t it? Leaders of Red Indian – that is, Native American – tribes were men. Sitting Bull, er…” Clearly my knowledge of Native American leaders was not what it might be. “Geronimo,” I cried with sudden inspiration.
“You’re a racist and a sexist, Dad. Why don’t you just tell Jessica that all she’s good for is cooking and having babies?”
“Obviously, I don’t think that. Your sister will – damn it, Ben, do you want to hear this joke or not?”
“No. But you’re going to tell me and I’m trapped in the car, so you might as well go ahead.”
I did. Eventually I reached the punchline. “Because the Indians have been collecting all the firewood!”
Ben would have been more amused by the dentist. “Is that the best you can do, Dad? And it’s ‘native Americans’ remember?”
“I was only trying to make you laugh…”
“Dad, I’ve got double Chemistry first lesson. Nothing can make me laugh.”
The lights eventually conceded that green was an option and we made it to school. “I’ll pick you up just after five.” I said.
“OK. Just don’t tell me any jokes. And Dad – Cochise, Crazy Horse and Chief Pontiac as well.”
“Pontiac?” I spluttered. “That’s a car, you idiot, not a Native American. It’s not April Fool’s Day.”
Not for the first time my youngest son sighed. “Just Google him, Dad…”