Sunday, January 28, 2001

What dads' lives would be like if sons ruled

        In the dream, I hear the 11-year-old's footsteps thumping up the stairs, slow, heavy, deliberate. Her arms are crossed. Her eyebrows are arched. Her mouth is twisted into a “no.” She's not in the mood, OK?

        I'm in trouble again.

        “How many times do I have to tell you?” she says. “Take your socks out of the drawer and throw them on the floor.”

        I'm back in Kids World. It's a place where your children tell you what to do. Imagine what it'd be like if kids really did rule. I can tell you. I had the dream. It was as real as a grass stain on new dress pants. It was terrifying.

        It's their house, and as long as I'm living under their roof . . .

        “I promise I'll never put another empty Surge can in the trash,” I say. “From now on, they go straight underneath the bed.”

        The Kid Down the Hall walks in. He inspects the kitchen: Sink empty of dishes; pans put away; peanut butter seditiously in the jar and not smeared down the counter like a football yard-line. He sighs.

        “What do I have to do, draw you a picture?” he asks.

        “No, son.”

        “Oh, really? I think I do, Dad. I think I have to draw you a picture. The next time I come home and there's no jelly streaked on the window, you won't be allowed to watch Monday Night Football with your friends. Is that clear?”

        “Yes, son.”

        “Is your room dirty?”

        “Well, uh, no, I just got off the road and I haven't had time to mess it up yet.”

        “You haven't had time? You had time to cut the grass, didn't you?” he asks.

        “Um, well, yeah,” I say.

        “You had time to take out the trash, run the vacuum and clean the basement. You had time to make your bed so it looks like it hasn't been slept in for a thousand years.”

        I admitted I did. I was ashamed.

        “Then why can't you do what I ask?” he says. As he speaks, he pours a glass of apple juice, knocks it to the floor and calls the dog over to clean it up.

        “Put your feet up on the table, Dad,” he says. “We need to talk.”

        I put my feet up. I slouch and look away. I hum a Beatles tune. I roll my eyes. “That's better,” he says.

        “You know, Dad, I don't ask you to do a lot around here. Do you think I ask you to do a lot?”

        No, son.

        “I give you a lot of rope, a lot more than other kids give their parents. In return, I expect a dirty house on occasion. Am I being unreasonable?” No, son.

        “As long as you're living in my house, you'll play by my rules, Dad. And if you don't turn that music up, I'm going to take your stereo away.”

        He tells me to stop looking at him when he's talking to me. He tells me that if I had more respect, I wouldn't call him son. I would call him dude.

        “And another thing,” he says. “Stop reading and play some video games.”

        OK, dude.

        We agree that I'm supposed to be home by 11, and if I am, I'll be grounded for a month. We agree that when I'm out with friends, I should not call. We agree that I should never again go to work without being reminded 500 times first.


        Because he says so.

        “When I was your age,” dude says, before stopping himself. “No. Wait. Forget that.”

        Contact Paul Daugherty at 768-8454; fax: 768-8330.


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