The kids are pushing the limits.
You’ve loosened their leash, hoping to see their inner restraints kick in, but suddenly you know you have to say something…
Surprise, surprise. Your parents suddenly come out of your mouth.
And surprise, surprise. Just as suddenly you have become middle-aged.
Dad passed away twenty years ago, but I still hear his voice. When I’m facing decisions; or when I have to smile at recalling his exaggerations; and prompting me to check for any humour that might be hiding within hard times.
But for disciplining the kids? No way, as I’ll explain...
Hard times and hard work were Dad’s long-term acquaintances. World War One shadowed his boyhood years, before the 1920s Great Depression pulled the rug out from under everyone’s dreams.
With his own dream of becoming a builder on hold; he sold plant seedlings door-to-door. But then came a bonus, for one day, eighty miles from home, he met the girl who captured his heart.
In 1934, they crowned their distant courtship with their wedding.
As the family grew, Dad finally got his start in building. However, as World War Two’s storm clouds gathered and war was declared, builders could not enlist. With the economy dominated by wartime demands, they were needed to build factories to produce munitions and other war materiel.
Shaped by these tough times, his humour kept coming—heavily loaded with irony and exaggeration.
I recall his complaints whenever we left lights or appliances on. Not about wasting power, but about “the noise of the poles cracking under the weight of the electrical surge; and I’ll have to pay to replace them!”
One night at a church social, the emcee handed out pencils and paper; before he switched off the lights and told us what he wanted us to draw, like “people sitting inside a church.”
From out of the pitch-black silence, I heard Dad’s overplayed lament, “Oh no—I’ve drawn mine all standing up!”
For many years he played in a brass band which often travelled by bus to regional and interstate competitions. The return journeys were times for the beer to flow, and as a non-drinker Dad was entrusted with leading the singing with his cornet. His gentle rebuke was to lift each line by a semitone, which all the guys followed until they found themselves struggling as sopranos—and not sober enough to work out why.
His passion for music gave no room for what he described as GEE-tars(!) in church, and he disdained any efforts to modernise the classics. Anyone who steered such a course should be taken out and shot!
However irony replaced this violent threat in his response to hearing a rocked-up version of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. “So now we’ll have to call it the Moonlight Sinatra? I reckon that if that guy ever tackled the Air on a G-String, that his Bach would be worse than his Bite-hoven!”
But anytime our kids ever pushed the limits, I always avoided any threats I would never carry out.
Our backyard was dominated by his joinery workshop: its workbenches, tools, timber racks and heavy-duty machines a regular source of fascination. There were table saws; a buzzer for planning small timber; a chain mortiser to drill square or rectangular holes; and the piece de resistance - a huge table thicknesser. I loved watching this machine, spraying out wood shavings at a great rate, as its rotating horizontal blade dressed—or smoothed—rough-sawn timber up to three feet wide.
Child protection staff would have opened huge horror-filled files had they heard his threats whenever we acted up, as he voiced his dilemma, “Should I saw your head off, or should I feed you through the thicknesser?”
But let the record show.
We all survived.
With every head intact.
With nothing shaved off either side.
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