Passing the buck to another parent could come back to bite, dad warns.
Published: June 12, 2020
By: Rick Epstein
Here’s my Father’s Day gift to new dads: A warning about the phrase “Ask your mother.” It starts rolling out of the paternal mouth once kids are about 3 years old, and it can be habit-forming.
It’s 4:30 p.m. on a Friday, and I’m in the office bravely crawling toward the finish line. My 20-something staffers are planning their Friday-night festivities, and for that, they need no input from me.
But there is one person whose plans for a wild weekend involve me, and it’s not my wife. I feel a vibration, and for a moment I wonder if I’m wetting my pants. No, it’s my phone. My 14-year-old daughter, Wendy, says, “Hi Dad, can Kourtney, Bree, Heather and Morgan sleep over tonight?”
This is the time to say, “yes … on one condition,” and then name something that will advance the cause of righteousness.
But nothing comes to mind. Like I said, it’s been a long week.
So on the off-chance my lovely wife, Betsy, will do better, I say, “Ask your mother.” Besides, it would be unfair to approve the mayhem that will cause Betsy to spring angrily out of bed every couple hours to tell the revelers to quit shrieking, or come back inside the house, or put the furniture back where it was.
My wife is also at work. She is about to hear that half the cheerleaders in town are coming over for an all-night pep rally and that “It’s OK with Dad if it’s OK with you.”
If I were on my game, I would speed-dial Betsy and give her a heads-up so she can be ready. “Unity of command” is a basic military principle, and it’s even more crucial in parenting. When Betsy and I are both at home, we confer privately and present our rulings with a united front. But at work, we are not only divided, but tired or sometimes distracted by actual work. Then Wendy can knock us off one at a time.
Obviously, I’m willing to pass the buck, but I’d like to pass it with nuanced precision.
How about this: As Betsy leaves for work, I hand her a sealed envelope containing the secret codes for the day. She hides it in her purse.
At 4:59 p.m., Wendy calls her and says, “Mom, can I have a sleep-over?”
“Did you ask Dad?” asks Betsy, ripping open the envelope.
“Yes,” says Wendy. “He said to tell you: ‘The poodle is blue.’”
Betsy scans the code sheet. Down the left side are spy-type phrases, such as “Does this train go to Munich?” paired with precise messages, such as “I’ve just said no 100 times; it’s your turn.” Other messages include, “It really IS alright with me,” and “I WANT to say no, but can’t think of a good reason; can you?”
Ah, here it is: “The poodle is blue.” Today it means: “I might not come home tonight.”
But this is whimsy. I have nowhere else to go.
I don’t hear anything more until I’ve staggered up the front steps and fallen onto the couch, barely missing Betsy, who is already basking in the glow of the TV. She says, “The girls will be arriving any minute, so you and Wendy better go out and pick up pizzas for dinner and some ice cream. You can’t expect your party to throw itself.” Apparently Wendy has exaggerated my lack of opposition into eager co-sponsorship.
“OK,” I say.
Wendy chimes in: “Dad, can we get M&Ms, too? They’re good on ice cream, plus we like to throw them at each other.”
“No!” I said. Sometimes a man has to take a stand.