Being a dad is a confusing business. We're supposed to be affectionate but strict; kind but tough; playing the fool one minute, setting boundaries the next.
As a separated dad, this can be even harder – I only see my lad every other weekend at the moment, with a quick hot chocolate after school when we can. So when Ben's with me the last thing I want to do is spend all my time telling him off.
Now he's older, it's easy to forget he's still just a kid. I talk to him like I do my buddies about most things, so slipping from that into the Dad Who Must Be Obeyed is fairly odd. And perhaps my favourite thing in the whole world is making Ben laugh. When he laughs, it's not like an adult chuckle – all restrained and sensible. He laughs so much he falls off his chair – literally – and lies helplessly slapping the floor, tears streaming from his cheeks, begging for mercy.
But I also know that part of a dad's role is still, in many families, to be the authority figure. Kids – and especially boys – need to know that if they push it too far, there are consequences. I must admit to being horrified at the way some kids talk to their parents now: rude, disrespectful, calling them names. And, I know this is old fogey-ish, but when we were kids we would NEVER have spoken to adults like that. My dad would have killed me!
So I often find myself confused about when to muck about and when to get heavy. Take farting. We all do it, but adults develop a sophisticated system of breaking wind alone, or outside, or somewhere that won't cause offence/embarrassment. Kids have other ideas.
'Ben!' I said, trying not to laugh, as he let rip last weekend. 'I've told you not to do that.'
'Oka-ay,' he said, trotting off to the doorway and parping again.
'That's still gross! Go to the bathroom or something.'
'But you said not to do it in the same room,' he said with a sly grin.
'Ah. Yes. Well,' I said, laughing despite myself.
What the hell - we'll work on the windiness next time...