Okay, okay, I know you are too polite to write in and say this (those of you who do write, write to say nice things) but I feel you have every right to be tired of listening to me banging on about my experiences of the pleasures and perils of 21st century fatherhood.
So here comes the good news.
First, I am off on holiday from Tuesday and you will be spared this column for several weeks. Secondly, this week, I won’t go on about myself. Instead, I’ll narrate to you a couple of real-life stories people have recently told me.
‘Are you sassing me, punk?’
With its combination of street cred and edgy annoyance, and the question mark at the end exemplifying its tone of gritty irony, that line (Say it aloud: ‘Are you sassing me, punk?’) sounds like something out of early Quentin Tarantino or John Singleton’s Boyz N the Hood.
A little girl, who is soon to be six years old, said it. “My wife was scolding her for something, and she turned around and said that,” the child’s father told me. “And she said it with mocking mirth.”
Mocking mirth? Yes. Not yet six? No.
Assuming that she is too young for either Tarantino or Singleton (though one can never tell, I suppose) I asked where might she have got it from. “I think it was from The Diary of a Wimpy Kid, a novel in cartoons she had been reading some time ago.” (We have books from the Wimpy Kid series at home. I’ve read bits of them. They are very street smart and funny, but they evidently have uses I had failed to spot.)
Note: I couldn’t find ‘sassing’ in my edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary. Going online, I found that the Merriam-Webster Dictionary says that it is a transitive verb, and defines it as ‘to talk impudently or disrespectfully to’. The Urban Dictionary says that it can simply mean ‘getting on one’s nerves’.
‘You suddenly realise that your parents have no power’
“I gave my mother such a lot of grief. Every few days, she would cry.” This came from a young lady who remembers with fondness how wild she was as a teenager. “It’s odd, the moment when you realise that your parents have simply no power over you. They are nothing. What can they do? Especially if you are a girl, you know. They could have thrown my brother out of the house, but not me.
“So I left home on a couple of occasions. I said I could no longer live with them. I took my bike and clothes and went off to my friend’s. Every time, my parents would offer truce. I’d been a brat, but it was as though they were apologising to me.”
What about her father, I asked her.
“Oh, fathers are the easiest to manipulate. All you have to do is cry. They may be smart and wise and everything, but to daughters, they are putty.”