“Mum, Dad,” my youngest son says as he polishes off a large mouthful of bacon sandwich, “This would be a good time to ask you for something wouldn’t it?”
We’re back home. 9.30 at night. And we’re celebrating. Victory for Ben and his team in the public speaking competition.
However bad it is, if you tell us the truth we can deal with it. If you lie to us we’re screwed.
Jane and I are basking in the warm glow of our child’s achievement.
So yes, of course it would. Why is it that my other two children never mastered this?
Surely knowing when to ask your parents for something is the sort of basic life skill that schools should teach in PHSE – or whatever common sense and sex is called this week?
Do something brilliant, come home with a blistering school report and ask away.
Any other day you need to do a little preliminary scouting: see how the land lies. Try an opening shot: ‘How was your day at work, Mum?’ ‘You look like you’ve lost weight, Dad.’
And don’t ask for money two days before the end of the month.
But no, only Ben has mastered the art – and here he is opening the negotiations.
Naturally, we’re likely to say yes.
“It’s something you were talking about the other day, Dad…”
Is it? I’m in trouble then. These days I can barely remember what I was talking about ten minutes ago.
“Give me a clue…”
“You were wondering when my year was going to start having parties…”
So I was. Going by his elder brother’s timetable this is the year Ben phones shortly after midnight to advise us that he’s hopelessly drunk and would we like to get out of bed and rescue him. I checked the calendar. February 24. He was four months ahead of schedule.
“OK,” I said. “These are the rules. Exactly the same as for your brother and sister.
“Wherever you are, whatever time it is, whatever state you’re in, if you need collecting we’ll come and get you.
“And if there’s a problem, a disaster, something bad has happened, tell us the truth. However bad it is, if you tell us the truth we can deal with it. If you lie to us we’re screwed.”
This is why I love my youngest son beyond all human measure.
All parents will know what I mean.
You love them beyond etc. etc. because they’re your children. That’s a given.
But by the time they’re teenagers there are aspects of your children’s character you like – and parts you don’t like.
I love the fact that Ben will listen.
When Jessica was 16 she’d argue black was white.
At least that’s what Jane told me. We’d broken off diplomatic relations around that time.
As for Tom, he did that raising-his-eyebrows thing. And sighing – heavily. How can I possibly be related to someone as stupid as this?
But Ben understands your point of view.
He understands that parents worry. He listens.
In fact he was listening so much that I wondered if I should push my luck. Offer him the benefit of my accumulated wisdom.
Tell him all he needed to know about girls.
For some strange reason Tom had never been interested in my advice.
Thought the internet knew more than his dad. But surely I could help Ben?
“One more thing…” I said.
“No,” my wife said. “Don’t even start.”
That’s the trouble with being married for 20 years. Your wife knows what you’re thinking before you’ve finished thinking it.
And so it was that I dropped him off at the party with a toothbrush and four cans of Budweiser.
And left my son to find out for himself…