Dad's World with Jonathan deBurca Butler

“I CAN’T do it,” came the plaintive cry.

“OK,” I said, coming into the room with a tea towel in my hand. “Don’t worry about it. Hang on a second.” The sobs continued.

“I just can’t do it,” said Fionn, rubbing his tired eyes.

“What’s the problem?” I asked.

I didn’t need to ask. I could see it straight away.

The boys have a game called pillow game.

It is usually played at around five in the afternoon and involves going upstairs, getting all the pillows off the beds, dragging them downstairs, arranging them like an Olympic gymnasium and then proceeding to launch themselves from whatever armchair, couch or footstool is available.

This evening’s game had ended and now the boys were tidying up. But in the process, Fionn had got confused.

Luke, who was trying to help him, was now beginning to wobble his bottom lip too. It was time to intervene.

“OK,” I said, throwing the tea towel on a nearby chair. “Let’s have a look.” Fionn began to laugh in that relieved and slightly giddy way he does when he knows he is going to get my help.

“First of all, both of you step back here,” I said.

Luke looked at Fionn, just to make sure he had heard correctly, before shuffling back to his newly designated mark.

“Now Fionn,” I said. “Have a look at the couch.”

“OK father,” he said. (He had started to call me father in the run-up to Father’s Day, it was a little unnerving but I let him indulge.)

“What’s on the couch?” I asked.

“A cushion,” he said.

“Good,” I replied.

“And where is that cushion?” I asked.

“At the back,” he replied.

“Good,” I said. “So why can’t you get the bottom cushion in?”

“Ehm,” he said. “Because the back is already there.” I held out my hand and received a high-five. I was genuinely impressed by his logic.

“So what do you need to do?” I asked.

“Take out the back and put in the bottom one first.”

After being bombarded by a plethora of adoring high-fives, Fionn jumped up on to the sofa and removed the offending cushion with a Samson-like tug.

With his brother’s help he then proceeded to put the couch back in order and all was once again right with the world.

He was happy and I was happy. I had had a choice. I could have gone in there huffed, puffed, complained and then reluctantly picked the pillows up, put them back and then got back to the washing up.

Or I could have done what I did which was to try and get him to solve his own problems.

Earlier in the week, myself and Ciara had been at Fionn’s school induction. He starts in September.

The principal, a no-nonsense woman with a great ethos, had urged us to encourage the soon-to-be freshers to dress themselves, carry their own bags and, in general, to be as independent as possible.

I have to say we have always been relatively good at that, and try as much as we can to get the boys to tidy up their stuff and look for things themselves if they have lost them.

But it sometimes takes someone like a school principal to remind you to stay on course, or at least to give you a different perspective on why we need to encourage independence.

“They are,” she said in her closing gambit, “not stupid. They are little people and we should respect them.”

As I walked back into the kitchen to continue with my daily chores, I imagined the principal looking down on me and giving a stern but approving nod.


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