Things came to a minor head with my three-year-old son earlier this week. He was sat on the bathroom toilet as I got home from work and poked my head through the door. He told me to leave and get in the bin. I asked him which bin and he replied the kitchen bin. This was clearly absurd. The kitchen bin is far too small for me to get into. I offered him the choice of one of the three outside bins: garden, recycling or normal. Clearly he plumped for the normal bin, the one with the fetid pool of bin juice at its base and the recent bluebottle infestation.
So I tramped downstairs and opened and shut the front door so that he could hear it. Then I went and hid under the staircase. I listened out as he padded along the landing into our bedroom to look out of the front window at the bin which he now imagined to be containing his father. And as I cowered under the stairs while he frantically pleaded with his mum to retrieve me from the bin I couldn’t help but think that something had gone wrong with my parenting strategy.
There are mitigating circumstances. From the moment that he found his voice my son has subjected me to a verbal battery of taunts which he has fired at me on a regular basis. If our house had an HR department then I would have lodged a formal complaint in the hope that disciplinary proceedings would be initiated.
Most of abuse happens in the few hours after I’ve returned from the office and before he has fallen asleep, when the air is simmering with a toxic blend of resentment and fatigue. It began with a simple “no, Dadu” repeated like a mantra, but has evolved with the improvements in his vocabulary. In the last week alone the tirades have ranged from the knockabout (“you silly old sod”) to the metaphysical (“Daddy, you’re like a bad dream”). Once I heard him beg his mother not to leave the room so as not to be left alone with me.
We’ve always been able to rationalise the manner in which he singles me out by pointing to the fact that he recognises the paternal neediness in me and mischievously plays on it. But the other day I eavesdropped on a conversation that he had with his mum during which he calmly explained that he did not want to play with me, the reasons for which appeared to be that I smelt. I actually smell really nice.
My reaction to the constant bombardment is always powerful amusement. But the lack of cooperation that it is aligned to is dispiriting. The bin charade was a result of weariness and resignation, a culmination. It was not part of a coherent plan, it was my normal ‘seat-of-the-pants’ parenting.
But the ‘bincident’ was also a watershed. Since that evening my son has adopted a more affable approach. It seems that in effect I have guilt-tripped him into liking me, and I achieved this by filling his little head with dark images of me hunkering down among the soiled nappies and maggots at the bottom of a bin. It’s obviously not how I planned it but for the last few days my son has embraced me, literally and figuratively. Children. You just never know.