Ben and I are in the woods. Another dog walk, another roll in fox poo. If only they’d given me the part in Apocalypse Now: ‘I hate the smell of fox poo in the morning.’
But enough of my troubles. Here comes a fellow dog-walker. With wife and disappointingly well-behaved Labrador.
“Morning,” I say.
The fellow dog-walker looks at me. He clearly wants to say something. The concentrated expression on his face suggests it’s going to be profound. Am I about to learn one of life’s great secrets? Is God compensating me for the fox poo?
He looks at his watch. Time passes. “No,” he eventually says. “It’s afternoon.”
“I hate that,” Ben says when Confucius and his wife are safely out of earshot. “I mean, you’re not actually saying, ‘Hello, I’d just like to confirm it’s not yet noon’ are you?”
“Nope. It’s more, ‘I greet you as a fellow dog-walker and offer you the chance to return the greeting’ – if you want to get intellectual about it.”
We talk some more about what you say, what you mean and the pedants who point out the difference.
I’m impressed by my son’s insight. So impressed that I suggest a more in-depth discussion when we reach the top of the hill. On that nice bench. Where I can get my breath back.
“There’s a book you ought to read,” I say. “It’s called Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.”
“I’ve heard of that…”
“Yep. It’s all about how men say one thing and women hear something completely different.”
“Like you and Mum?”
“Yeah, sometimes. Like I might say, ‘Gosh, the kitchen’s a bit untidy.’”
“And Mum thinks you’re criticising her?”
“Yes. Exactly. And all I’m really doing is observing. I’m saying ‘the kitchen’s untidy’ like I might say ‘it’s raining.’
“But you don’t actually tidy it up.”
“Well, no. Not if there’s cricket on TV. There’s another chapter in the book,” I continue, not entirely sure that the discussion is moving in my intended direction. “It’s called ‘Mr Fixit’ or something like that.”
“It’s not about DIY is it?”
“No. The book’s about men and women not understanding each other.”
“So do you understand Mum?”
Well there’s a question after twenty years of marriage. But a chance to impart some wisdom. You understand me so well, Ben, she’ll sigh. All thanks to my Dad, darling…
“When we started seeing each other your Mum lent me a book. There was a sentence in it: ‘the average man understands the average women less well than the average Chinaman understands the average pygmy.’ I don’t suppose you’re allowed to say that these days. Not politically correct. But it’s absolutely right. I tell you, Ben, I’m certain I understand women better than the majority of men – ”
“Yes, that’s what Mum says…” Was that teenage sarcasm? I let it pass.
“ – But I barely understand them at all. I used to be a real Mr Fixit. She’d come in, start telling me her problems and I’d be right there with the answers. Do this, do that, sack her, send him to Aberdeen. When really – ”
“All she wanted was someone to listen.”
“Yeah.” What had he just said? “What did you just say?”
“She just wanted you to listen.”
“Yes. That’s what it says in the book. How did you know?”
“Well, it’s obvious.”
“No it wasn’t. Not to me. I thought Mum wanted my advice.”
“No, Dad,” he said gently. “She wanted to dump her problems. Express her frustration.”
Did my son instinctively understand that? Instinctively understand women? Could he sail through life without his Dad’s advice? Apparently so…
Thanks for reading this post. If you enjoyed it – and you’d like something light and moderately humorous 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.