Does Dad get enough respect?
This question seems to be much on the mind of my son Jason.
His mother tells me that Jason, at age eleven, can be an unresponsive, eye-rolling, “I’m not LIS-sen-NNINGG” tween.
I don’t get much of that. With me, he is a very sweet and chatty boy. He talks about his friends. He talks about school. He talks about GameCube. He sits in my lap to watch Peter Jennings and “The NewsHour.” We talk about the Iraqi elections, favorite bands, sports . . .
The boy is chewing my ear off.
This week, he has taken to chiding his siblings for being disrespectful. I’m more laissez faire than their mom, and so certain family strictures are less rigidly enforced at this home than at their other home.
At the same time, I was raised to be a good Southern boy. My manners are irreversibly impeccable. I open every door. I smile “howdy” at everyone, respectfully. All of my “betters and elders” will always and forever be addressed by me as “sir” and “ma’am.”
Jason picks up on that, and mimics it. Every meal ends with him asking if I am finished eating. Then he clears his plate, commenting that dinner was very good. Thanks, Dad.
By contrast, his feral siblings bicker at the table, eat little, ask about candy and then vanish, leaving behind a plate of uneaten food. As I wash the dishes, they return, begging for junky snacks.
Tonight, Jason proposed we have a family meeting on manners. I concurred. The two youngest know better than to behave so.
It is Friday, and so I let the children stay up late. They fed their new and curious addiction to “Full House” on Nickelodeon.
I never watched this program when it was originally broadcast—dude, I was too busy banging my head to punk bands!—so I do not relate.
I sat to watch part of an episode with them. It involves a teddy bear that was inadvertently thrown out, and a magic trick gone awry.
I surmise that “Full House” was a saccharine sitcom about a single dad with young daughters, doing his best to be wise with the help of male roommates who are apparently not his lovers.
I get the idea. Single dads and kids. Okay, so they identify with that.
The kids don’t seem to realize that the show is at least fifteen years old. Lillie likes that it is funny and all the kids are girls. Jason likes that it is a morality play. Collie gets bored and prefers GameCube.
Bed time arrives. The sitcom is over. Jason and Collie bicker about the game. Their voices are brittle and much too loud.
“Shh, shh, shh!,” I admonish. “Neighbors are sleeping!’ Collie continues his rant as though I am not speaking.
“Collie. Collie!! Collie!!” I say, never raising my voice. He doesn’t respond. I turn off his game. “You are being inappropriate. The game is over—it’s done for tonight. You can not make this kind of noise at this hour.”
We heard the wail of my neighbor’s infant son.
I speak very quietly. “It’s a privilege to stay up late. But you have to remember that there are other people around us. Your bickering has woken the baby next door. That is not acceptable behavior.
Brush your teeth and get ready for bed.”
I tuck them in, kissing them each good night. “I love you,” I say to each. I tell Collie I am sorry we had an argument at bedtime, but we do have to be considerate and respect others.
They drift to sleep as the baby next door cries.
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