By Indie Dad

In my last column I wrote about how, after their mum moved out, my two sons decided we needed some house rules. They were aged nine and seven at the time, and felt a powerful need to impose some order on the world. I had expected them to come up with five or six rules but they returned with a lengthy list, consisting of 32 rules.

Some were the kinds of things I had expected, the sort of rules they would have been familiar with in school. Rule 3, for example, ‘We will listen to each other without interrupting’; or Rule 4, ‘We will not shout at each other’. Neither of these rules were ever actually followed, of course, but worthy aspirations. Others, however, are more interesting and revealing of how our lives were at that time. Take Rule 11 – ‘Don’t say rude words’.

Looking back, I suspect that I was quite grumpy, quite a lot of the time. Going through a break-up and finding yourself alone with two young children is, to say the least, quite stressful. I tried to manage the stress in ways which didn’t affect the boys too much. In the mornings I would get up and have breakfast with them. We discovered that ITV 4 showed the nineteen-sixties Batman series at eight o’clock in the morning, and this became our breakfast viewing. We’d munch our toast and porridge while watching Batman and Robin whizzing around Gotham City, battling the likes of the Joker, the Penguin and – my personal favourite – Catwoman. Watching Julie Newmar getting up to her fiendish, feline tricks always got the day off to a good start.

After that I would make their packed lunches – sandwiches for Danny, a tub of porridge and fruit for Alex. A repetitive diet of soft textured gloop was one of the features of Alex’s autism. I’d pack their school bags, and then we would walk up to school. I’d say goodbye at the school gate and return to the silent, empty house and, quite often, go back to bed. As soon as I was on my own I felt exhausted and, without the boys there to distract me, frightened of what the future might bring. I knew there were things I should be doing to make that future better, like going to networking events and drumming up some work, but I just didn’t have the energy. But nor did I want to be the type of person who spent his days in bed, so after an hour or so I would get up again, and try to be productive.

What, you might be asking, does all this have to do with a house rule about not using rude words? Well, the point is that some of the rules, including this one, appeared to be intended to address my behaviour, not theirs. I don’t recall either of them using bad language – although they certainly do now – so I suspect that rule 11, ‘Don’t say rude words’, was primarily aimed at me. Because one of my responses to the stress of my situation, along with going back to bed most mornings, was an overuse of the phrase “For fuck’s sake” – several times a day, to be honest.  Sometimes this was a muttered expression of frustration, sometimes it was a much louder expression of rage, and sometimes, most shamefully, it was directed at them. And Alex and Danny, quite understandably, didn’t like this very much. So rule 11 was aimed at me, not them.

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