Dad’s World with Jonathan deBurca Butler

I DON’T like this game!” screeched Fionn. “Stop, Luke. Stop!”

I had just got home. The au pair had told me that Fionn had been a “little emotional” throughout the day. At one point, when she refused to let him watch television, he had embarked on an epic 40-minute crying fit. She was clearly unimpressed.

As I got their dinner ready, they ran in and out of the kitchen. Luke, who is nearly two now, continued to chase his soon-to-be four-year-old brother around the house. Fionn continued to scream at him. Sometimes they used my legs as a type of haven; sometimes they went around me. None of that was really a problem — they do that all the time — but the screaming and upset, which I had hoped would gradually dissipate (let them sort it out themselves, as one mentor once said) was starting to get on my nerves.

More than anything, I couldn’t understand why Fionn was getting so hysterical. To me, it just looked like a game of chasing. On closer inspection, however, I could see the problem. Luke was gritting his teeth and jutting his jaw forward. When he would eventually get hold of Fionn he would start laughing and shouting “bite, bite, bite”. Having fallen victim to them on several occasions, Fionn knows all about Luke’s gnashers and is very wary of them.

For most of his short life, Luke has had to put up with persistent bullying from his elder sibling. Sly little punches and needless jealous pushes have been part and parcel of Luke’s life since he mustered up his considerable courage and started to walk. He’s now beginning to learn how to stand up for himself and how to push Fionn’s slightly impatient buttons, and part of me thinks ‘good on him’.

But that part of me is totally and utterly wrong.

Once I came to that conclusion, I had to weigh up my options. Do I tell them to stop, which I know won’t work? Do I shout, which will just make them cry? Do I try and distract them and send the two of them up to their rooms?

I looked at the kettle, and the kettle, which for a moment came alive, looked invitingly at me.

“Give yourself a minute,” it said.

I clicked it on and as the reassuring initial surge of energy pulsed through its elements, I picked the two boys up in my arms, informed them of their fate, and marched up the stairs to carry out their sentences — 10 minutes in their rooms. Of course, they protested, but I really, really didn’t care.

Lately, every day has been the same. I come home, they fight, and I end up feeling guilty for losing the rag. It’s draining for me and futile for them; they learn nothing only the fact that daddy can be an angry man sometimes and I don’t want to be an angry man.

Most days I’d warn them. I’d say if you do X again, I’ll do Y or you won’t get Z. By doing that, I think I’m giving them chances, I think I’m being fair but I’m probably just demonstrating weakness and ultimately a short fuse, all of which equates to being something of a gutless parent.

I came back down and made my coffee. Upstairs, the boys’ crying died down...well, it became less real and more of an act. I gave them a good 10 minutes in the bin (the sin one, not the real one) before I went up to get them. I spoke to them separately before bringing them together for a final word and the all-important hug. We descended the stairs full of manly remorse.

For the next hour they got on well. They chased each other around the house without pushing or pinching or biting. Later, over a carefully-prepared dinner of...eh...fish fingers and fried potatoes, Luke did an abrupt fart, sending the three of us into convulsions of laughter.

Men are quite logical but sometimes. In order to see them apply it, you have to remove them from the field of battle for a while and hope that when they return for peace talks, someone will eventually do a fart.


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