Thanksgiving dinner at my place. Present: wife, son, me. Conversation, stilted. Could it be otherwise with a thirteen year old son?
I don't talk much, usually. You learn more with your mouth closed. Still, sometimes it is necessary to say something: "Great turkey. I really like the marshmallow dressing." Just kidding, of course. The turkey was great and there wasn't a marshmallow to be seen, anywhere.
Often, when I feel it necessary to say something, it is directed to my son: "Did you comb your hair this week?" Or: "Have those shorts been washed since your last birthday?"
On most topics, my son and I have an easy banter which may sound caustic and confrontational to outsiders, but is really good-natured and relatively benign. Unless, that is, I comment on my son's hair or his attire. Then, his sense of humour goes into hiding.
I must have transgressed in this fashion at the Thanksgiving dinner table. My son took offense with a comment I made about his hair. My wife, diplomat that she is, asked my son whether he knew enough about what might be guaranteed to "make Dad mad" to achieve that end in five minutes. Why, yes, he did, he said. That, according to him, wasn't even a real challenge. How short a time might be required to make Dad angry, asked my wife? 30 seconds, he said.
He's probably right. There are some things that will upset me every time. They are usually little things which have a large subtext: lack of courtesy, lack of respect, lack of manners, sloppiness, laziness. The individual action defined by the condition might be trivial, but the message derived therefrom isn't. We are all judged by how we act and on how we present ourselves to the world. Observers can tell a lot about our character without our having to say a word.
Kids test their parents. Even good kids do that. They need to find out how far they can go, what they can get away with. They want some control over their lives. They want to feel 'in charge' of their lives. I was a kid once. I remember.
So, if you know how to upset Dad in thirty seconds, then it must follow that you also know how not to get him angry at all, my wife said. Why, yes... I guess so, he responded.
Well, I feel better. At least there's hope, then.