Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The father figure: source of authority in the family

Checks and balances, conflict and compromise. That’s what life’s all about, and that’s as true in the domestic sphere as anywhere else.

It was a lesson I learned when I became a father. It was a curious experience, as I stepped up to a role of authority – I might even say an authoritarian role – and realised I was approaching it from a position of weakness.

Firstly because I couldn’t bring myself to take it seriously. So when the kids roared and wept their disapproval my instinct was generally to laugh, which quite naturally helped things along beautifully. If things turned really bad, I’d get a camera out and take a picture which I threatened to show to their friends later. It was all part of what I saw as my mission to be a caring and supportive parent.

The second factor that made it a little more difficult to break the kids to my will was that I wasn’t very good at it. Being vertically challenged doesn’t help: my father used to tell me I suffered from duck’s disease, which he defined as having my arse (sorry, colonials – ass) too close to the ground. Severity and punishment didn’t really come naturally which meant that, if I wanted to get my way at all, my only option was compromise.

Nicky could sometimes be quite easy
With Nicky, the youngest of them, I reached a good working arrangement whereby I never insisted on anything I didn’t really care about – the kind of thing, say, which neglected might lead to our all being poisoned or burned in our beds – and on anything else he would choose to ignore me or follow my gently offered suggestions as he saw fit. 

Imposing paternal authority sometimes proved tiring

Occasionally I'd enlist the help of
the (not so) wicked stepbrother
It worked out just fine and all three boys left home without getting themselves murdered or murdering either of us, which is probably not a bad measure of a reasonably successful upbringing.

But leave home they eventually did, creating a terrible gap in a life in which I had devoted so much effort to enlightened and effective nurturing and, above all, training of others in my care.  I needed to fill that void. With the pet substitutes gone, I had to concentrate on the pets instead.

With them it’s been working just as swimmingly as with the boys. I have to confess that a spirit of compromise still reigns, though I sometimes wonder whether only one of us is doing the compromising. You know, like the special relationship that binds Britain to the US, but not the US to Britain.

Our dog Janka seems to have got her mind round the fact that she’s not supposed to get up on the sofa unless we’ve previously put a blanket down for her. She’ll even sit quietly watching me get the blanket ready before she hops up. If, however, we forget to put the blanket out and then leave her on her own, she’ll get up anyway. After all, it’s our fault for not having kept our end of the deal. She could hardly accept an infringement of her rights just because we haven’t done our work.

Good Girl. On her blanket. Not eating my lunch.
The other day I was delighted to take some of Danielle’s excellent cooking for my lunch at the office. It was in a Tupperware container, inside three plastic bags, inside my rucksack. But then I went out leaving this beautifully aromatic temptation provocatively displayed in the middle of the sitting room. How could I reasonably complain if on my return the packaging had been ripped open and every last morsel of the food was gone, except for the bits that have been rubbed into the carpet?

Generally, though, things are going well in bending her to my will. Success has been just as marked with Misty, the cat. They say that cats can’t be trained, but I’m living proof that it just takes a certain attitude. 

Our cat is very pleased with the lovely cat flap in the back door. Occasionally. however, he prefers to go out of the front door. After all, if he uses the flap, he has to climb a gate and then walk metres and metres round side of the house. So, if I’m around, and he wants to get to the front, he makes his desire perfectly clear to me, perfectly clear to any but the most obtuse fool. He sits by the door. He comes back towards me and then looks at the door. Sometimes, if all else fails, he mews. If he feels so inclined he can do that piteously.

If even that fails, what can he possibly do but remind me of his requirements? And as he has been equipped with four sets of claws and an excellent set of highly penetrative teeth, what else is he likely to use to deliver the reminder?

It works too. Danielle has a different attitude: she just belts him if he starts getting uppity. But I think initiative has to be rewarded. If he bites me hard enough, of course I get up and let him out of the front door.

You see? I’m getting him completely trained. Breaking him to my will as becomes an authoritative father figure.

It’s working just as well as it did with the kids.

Misty faces the day and decides to do some more training.
I mean, to get trained by me

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