Delivering messages too loud and clear


A DAD'S LIFE:Climbing down off my high horse . . . in a huff, writes ADAM BROPHY

YOU DO something for long enough and you learn a few things. Writing this column I’ve come to realise that it’s always safer not to mention anyone beyond the immediate family: mother, father, sisters, daughters, wife, as they have to take the flack. But including anyone outside of those who are legally obligated to a lifetime of your own personal abuse always results in trouble.

I remove from this proviso the church and the government, both of whom, for their contribution to family life, should be flagellated whenever possible. Any organisation that continually attempts to enforce particular values while blatantly flaunting them itself should be ridiculed whenever possible. See above for the worst two offenders, but into the same pot throw most multinationals, the banks and anything owned by Murdoch.

But I have peeved friends in the past through throwaway comments, which is never the intention, and swore off making the same mistake again. I would keep schtum unless I was raining flower petals on a person’s head.

Two weeks ago I used the phrase “prone to slight bouts of exaggeration and inaccuracy” in relation to my sister-in-law. I should have known better. She reacted like I’d posted her birthing video on YouTube. Mea bloody culpa. Never mind the point in dispute, whether she exaggerates or is inaccurate (really, she does neither), my aim was to demonstrate affectionately the banter she was having with my child at the time. The problem was I had blithely assumed my own exaggeration of her behaviour would go unpunished.

Nah, with this particular individual you don’t get away with that. She let me know she wasn’t happy. She let the missus know she wasn’t happy. I caught it from two sides. Think Tyson in his prime, coming at you with a combination, that’s the wife and her sister when they have you in their sights. It is a blonde tsunami.

Initial reaction, as it always is in the face of criticism, was indignation and anger. Calm down, woman, I thought. Luckily she wasn’t in front of me (correspondence was by text message) as that thought crystallised. “Calm down, woman” never works the way you expect it to. I can’t imagine why. This was quickly followed by, seriously, what’s the big deal here? What’s the issue? Get over yourself, woman. Again, “get over yourself, woman” has, for some reason, caused explosive responses in the past. I figured silence was the better part of valour and stewed a while. Well, sulked really, but it was better that way than to cause further hurt. And if I’d been forced into a situation where I had to defend myself for something I saw as pretty innocuous, I would have lashed out.

Eventually I had to climb down off the high horse I carry round with me for just these occasions. “You’re gonna have to say sorry,” said the missus.

“I will not say sorry. Tell her to bleedin calm down and get over herself,” said I, reinserting thumb in mouth, stamping foot and storming off.

Then came the revelation. I do this with the kids all the time. I grunt and I bark and I shout. I do it when they cross my line of vision to the telly, when they spill juice, blow the tin whistle incessantly, leave every door in the house open and turn on the heat because it’s cold, refuse to get out of bed, refuse to go to bed, not eat their dinner and then eat mine. I growl at them and afterwards wonder why they’re upset.

I go to the missus, “What’s wrong with that kid? All I did was ask her to pick up her bowl and put it in the dishwasher. Why is she in a catatonic state?”

“Maybe,” comes the reply, “that was the content of your message, but the problem is its delivery could be heard in the next county. You need to work on your communication skills, they are none too subtle.”

Thumb back in mouth, foot stamped, I storm off.

I shout a lot in my house. I’m always shouting at people. I think I’m being reasonable and sotto voce but the truth is they just hear me shouting. They don’t hear what I’m saying. My fault, not theirs.

For that I’m always sorry. And also for offending always accurate and never prone to exaggeration sisters-in-law.