Natural Selection in the Kitchen

Saturday morning. I was admiring the Swiss Army penknife I’d bought for our walk on the Pennine Way. Ben and I striding across the Dales – and what’s this? A horse with a stone in its hoof – no problem. I congratulated myself on my forward planning and snapped the blade shut. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten to remove my finger…

Sunday morning. Jane had bought me a new carving knife and a sharpening steel for my birthday. Just like a proper chef. And blimey, that was sharp. I sliced the bread open – and sliced straight into my finger.

Monday. “Are you in the bathroom?”

“Yes. What do you want?”

“Can you bring me a plaster?”

“Another one? What have you done now?”

“I’ve grated my thumb.”

“Second time you’ve grated your thumb in two weeks,” Ben said as we sat down to eat. “Twice baked souffle, maybe. Twice grated thumb is a bit worrying. It could be natural selection at work, Dad. Elimination of the stupid.”

“It was a small piece of parmesan,” I offered in mitigation. “I sacrificed myself to make sure you had something to sprinkle on your pasta.”

“…And God rewards you with a grated thumb. Life is so unfair. Refugees risking everything to get to Europe. Soldiers who’ve stepped on landmines. But you’ve got blood dripping on your pasta…”

And teenage sarcasm. But when is there not teenage sarcasm?

The next morning was the answer. Ben was wearing his concerned face as I drove him to College. “You seem to injure yourself a lot, Dad.”

“Well, yes, occasionally. When I’m cooking.”

“And when you’re looking at a penknife. And there was that time you glued your fingers together in the garden.”

How on earth had he remembered that? It must have been ten years ago. Had he been emotionally scarred by my trauma?

Apparently not. “We all thought it was really funny. Even Mum. But it’s a worrying trend, Dad.”

I didn’t like the way this discussion was going.

“Have you thought what you’re going to do if Mum dies before you?”

Not one bit…

“In case you haven’t noticed your Mother goes running twice a week.”

“We did it in Sociology. Twenty per cent of the time the wife dies first.”

“Can’t we talk about something more cheerful? Donald Trump’s plans for world domination?”

But the wretched boy had struck a nerve. The conversation played and re-played itself all day.

Bluntly, I am no longer in the first flush of youth. When I occasionally bump into someone I was at school with I’m struck by how remarkably old they look. And there are one or two who haven’t even made it this far. Yep, I may soon have to file myself under ‘middle-aged.’

But I can do without Ben deciding I’m not safe to live alone. Especially when there are a good ten years to go.

Ben’s 17. I was 27 when I realised the tables had turned: that now it was my job to make sure my Dad was alright. It was a Sunday night. I was helping him dig his car out of a snowdrift. “Sit inside, Dad,” I said. “I’ll do it. You keep warm.” Dad died six years later.

I stared out of the office window. Damn it, Jane and I were fitter than we’d been for years. With Tom and Jessica away we finally had time to eat properly and do some exercise.

But supposing something did happen to her? Would the children be round en masse two weeks later? “Sorry, Dad. We think it’s for the best. You’ve cut your finger one too many times…”

Clearly there were two things I had to do – quickly. Take good care of my wife. And stop sharpening my knives…

Thanks for reading this post. If you enjoyed it – and you’d like something light and “very, very funny” to read – you can buy the ‘Best Dad I Can Be’ sample book with 27 of my favourite posts covering all the years I’ve been writing: it’s all of 99p on your Kindle. Alternatively the first chronological book, ‘Half Dad Half Fish’ which covers the time when the children were 9, 7 and 4 is available here


  1. This is a sobering read, but I guess it’s the reality. I still have both of my parents and I’m not even thinking of them leaving us, let alone me or my husband!
    You have a wise son there and you should definitely stay away from the knives…

    • Don’t worry, Sarah – don’t use anything sharper than a wooden spoon now. And obviously the children have re-fitted all the child safety locks on the cupboards…

  2. Technically, if it was natural selection at work, wouldn’t you have been killed off before you had Ben so you couldn’t reproduce? Game, set match young Benjamin. Parenting is like poker. House. Always. Wins….. ish…

    • I think his theory would be that the pressure of parenting has been too much for me. Dash out of office, collect him from College, rustle him up a quick dinner before taking him to work. Knife slips off onion in all the excitement: straight into finger and Dad’s sliced himself open again… But as we all know, time will take its revenge in about 30 years’ time when he has a teenager…

  3. Oh bless you… but for someone who is going through it. You should talk about stuff like this now, when you can. As when suddenly you get the bad news that life isn’t about to go as planned it is too late. And I would have always said we were an open family who could talk about anything (and we still are) but asking Dad about his funeral plans now… the plan was mum would go first and I would ask him about his when the time was right while sorting mums. Now that is more than likely not going to happen…

    Sorry to bring a downer, but learn from my mistakes 🙂

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