Since thumbscrews and waterboarding were outlawed by the good parenting Nazis (sometime in the 1970s I think), we dads have been left with just words to persuade our children to follow the right path.
And words can sometimes fall short. Even if you write them down.
Pen mightier than the sword? You try fending off a screwdriver wielding intruder with some well-observed witticisms and see how far it gets you.
And a withering put down presented on a sheet of A4 may bring a tear to the eye, but you can’t slice an onion with it.
These long established expressions (the ‘pen mightier than the sword’ expression, not the ‘withering put down/onion’ one, that’s mine, I’m looking to patent it) are all very well, but throwing them about without thought can be problematical.
My youngest son, Isaac, aged 14, has an almost admirable lack of drive.
Once again this weekend he expressed his desire to finish his school days with haul of average results.
He once told me that there were 190 children in his school and that, academically, he was hoping to finish “Slap bang in the middle ... at number 80.”
In basic mathematics he would clearly be finishing a lot lower than that.
As his dad, it’s my duty to apply words like a cattle prod (another useful child-rearing device given its marching orders along with the slipper and cane) to get him back ‘on task.’
“You’re going to have pull your finger out and really work hard to get good results this term,” I told him.
He looked aghast.
“Well son,” I said, reaching into the dark recesses of mind to dust down and present a suitable old adage with which to impress, “No pain, no gain.”
Without skipping a beat he said: “Why would I want pain?”
“Well...,” I tried to formulate a response, but he had spotted my hesitation, he was smelling blood.
He hit home: “Shouldn’t the expression be: ‘No gain, no pain?’ That sounds good to me. No one likes pain.”
That’s the problem with offspring, they have the annoying habit of taking after their parents. Great if it’s the good parts they inherit, but in my case they’re few and far between.
Like Isaac, I wore my lack of effort at school like a badge of honour. Scraping through my local comprehensive with results flat-lining around the grade C mark.
“Yes,” I would tell people suitably unimpressed with my academic ‘achievements’, “I didn’t get any grade As, but it’s important to remember I did barely any revision.” As if that was something of which to be proud.
In my fuzzy mind, a C without revision, was the equivalent of the grade A those suckers who grafted had earned.
I’ll give him another pep talk, and be careful to choose a better adage. ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained’, perhaps. Or is it ‘Nothing ventured, nothing lost.’? ... I forget.