House Rules by Indie Dad

The story so far:
After their mum moved out, my two sons, Alex and Danny, 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…

Rule 30 – ‘We don’t strangle’
I blame The Simpsons for this one. The boys loved The Simpsons, so it was handy that they were on Sky TV for several hours of early evening viewing. Homer and Marge were like little yellow baby-sitters, taking care of the boys while I ‘got on with things’, as adults do, such as preparing food, sorting the washing, or sneaking an early evening nap.

Marge was a good mum and Lisa was a good role model but they were female, so the boys didn’t pay much attention to them. They were much more interested in the adventures of Bart, the naughtiest boy in the world, and Homer, the dad who had never grown up. When they played Danny would like to be Bart, running around the house and garden, shouting “Eat my shorts!”. If I tried to tell him off his response would be “Don’t have a cow, man!” So I didn’t tell him off, because Danny as Bart was too funny.

If Danny was Bart, that meant that Alex had to be Homer. And that led to the incident.

Alex had one real friend in school, a boy called Mohammad. Alex was the only autistic kid in the class, while Mohammad was the only Muslim.  Being a Muslim in the post 9/11 climate of fear wasn’t easy and, while there was no overt racism, many of the children and parents kept Mohammad and his family at a distance. When we waited for the children to come out of school, the only person who chatted to Mohammad’s dad was me. Both Mohammad and Alex were outsiders, and this formed the foundation of their friendship.

One day, when I went to collect Alex from school, his teacher asked me to come in for ‘a word’. This was always a sure sign of trouble, so I followed her and Alex through to the classroom with a degree of trepidation.

There had been an incident. Alex had put his hands around Mohammad’s neck, and the teacher had needed to intervene and force him to let go. As Alex was usually such a quiet, well behaved boy, not given to any form of violent behaviour, she was surprised that he had behaved in such a way.

I wasn’t. My mind went back to all the times he would have seen Homer strangling Bart, with no harm ever being done. His eyes might pop out of his little yellow head for a few seconds but, in the cartoon world of Springfield, they would quickly pop back in again. As a naive boy on the autistic spectrum, it hadn’t occurred to Alex that the consequences of strangling his friend would be any more serious.

Alex was good at learning lessons, so he didn’t strangle anyone again. But just as a reminder, just to be on the safe side, ‘We don’t strangle’ went into the house rules.

As I said, I blame The Simpsons for this. But I was the one who allowed Alex and Danny to watch The Simpsons, unsupervised, for hours at a time. So, as with most things involving parents and children, the blame really lies with me.

If you would like to talk about issues relating to modern gender roles and the pressures on individuals to behave or provide in a certain way, email [email protected]. Some HIP staff and contributors run a regular discussion group on gender and would be happy to admit new members.

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