Homemaking: A cure for irritable dad syndrome
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I recently became aware of something I find pretty aggravating.
I have twin 16-year-old daughters. As anyone with even one 16-year-old daughter can tell you, 16-year-old daughters can be fairly aggravating. It's that age when kids are just old enough to think they know everything, but not old enough so you can demand they move out. It's the age when daughters think their dads are doddering old fools and want to make sure dad knows it, too.
What I found out is that my daughters have, for years, been aggravating to me -- get this -- on purpose. They have something they call the "Game," and they play it whenever they are bored. The object of the Game is to slowly annoy Dad in bits and pieces, ramping up the aggravation level. The player who adds the final straw, the one that gets Dad to blow his top and start yelling, is the winner. The loser of the Game has to pay the winner a quarter. (As in so many things in life, Dad is actually the real loser.)
Part of this is my fault. I am, as my wife and kids like to remind me, easily aggravated. Little things, like someone leaving the door open, or interrupting me when I'm speaking, or the phone ringing ... OK, a lot of things I guess ... will cause me to sigh, get bright red, and start silently mouthing words that would be really offensive to anyone who had taken the time and effort to learn lipreading. My kids call it "irritable dad syndrome," and it looks almost exactly like someone having a heart attack.
The revelation that a great deal of all my aggravation has been intentionally induced came up during a recent family conversation where we were discussing various parents we knew. I offered that I thought of myself as a reasonable, calm father, one who exudes patience and understanding. This caused general laughter from my daughters. To prove their point, they revealed that the Game has been going on for about four years now.
To play the Game properly requires subtlety and creativity. Moves are created by noting what causes Dad to become irritated, and then re-creating those types of scenes over and over. They can be things like asking Dad to explain something complicated and then pretending you don't understand or never asked the question or begging to go out for ice cream when we haven't even had dinner. Suddenly saying that you're starving and need something to eat, right as Dad is trudging up the stairs to bed, is a good one. Pretending you can't hear what Dad said and repeating "What? What?" over and over is a standard move. Master moves include touching Dad on the back of the head (he hates that!) getting really, really close and then breathing in Dad's face (it makes him nervous) and pretending to be a child abuse victim in public. (This last one involves whispering something really obnoxious while in line at the supermarket and when Dad glares at you, flinching in front of the cashier like he whacks you all the time. Extra points for saying something like, "Please don't hit me. I'll be good!") The trick is, it seems, to annoy Dad in fits and starts, so that he doesn't realize it's happening, then betting on when Mount St. Dad will blow.
I should have noticed something earlier. Often, when my daughters were being particularly irritating, I'd be as patient as a normal person (well, this normal person) could be, and then, finally, when I'd inevitably go apoplectic, the girls would look at each other, smile, and one would hand the other a quarter.
I've decided, then, that Dad is going to play his own version of the game, and I'm safe telling you because my daughters don't bother to read my column unless I shove it under their noses at the breakfast table.
Next time my girls decide to see how far they can push me, I'm going to resist until the tension is unbearable. Then I'm really going to blow, red face and all, like a man possessed. But then, I'm going to clutch my chest, gasp for air, and then flop to the ground like a dead carp. I'll just stare off into space, eyes half closed and tongue sticking out, until they run from the room screaming.
If I can find them later, I'll tell them two things: First, they each owe me a quarter. Second, as far as I'm concerned, it's definitely "Game over."
First Published August 4, 2012 12:00 am