'Da-ad,' he said. 'Why do you eat so much red meat?'
'Er, because I like it,' I replied.
'But it's bad for you,' he countered.
I stopped my sizzling and dropped down to his eye level.
'Who told you that?' I asked.
Now don't get me wrong: I'm all for health education. We all know that smoking is bad for us, that drinking too much risks liver disease, that salt raises blood pressure and saturated fat clogs your arteries. And it's right and proper that our children are taught these things at school.
And, of course, we as parents should lead by example and eat alfalfa shoots washed in the spring water of mountain streams whenever the kids are around. But when they're not around – when they're in bed, where they should be, instead of wagging their sanctimonious fingers in my face – I want to live my life the way I want to live it and not have to answer to my brainwashed children.
I am a stay-at-home-dad to three kids – a stepdaughter, who's nine, and two sons, aged six and three. And they are all – even the toddler – bang on message when it comes to the Government's Nagging Your Parents Initiative.
Over the last month, here are the crimes I have been guilty of:
1) 'Dad, why do you keep the tap running when you're brushing your teeth?'
2) 'Dad, why do you give Mum a glass of wine when she walks through the door.
Don't you know it's bad for her?'
3) 'Dad, why do we have a bath every night when a shower uses less water?'
4) 'Dad, why do you buy so much food then throw some of it away?'
5) 'Dad, why don't you buy things with less packaging?'
6) 'Dad, why's the telly on when you're not watching it?'
Then last week, something happened that made me snap. We've all heard of the problem about children refusing to eat their greens, right? Well, my six-year-old son is the opposite. For three nights running, he flatly refused to eat the breaded chicken I'd lovingly prepared, or the sausages I'd slaved over a hot frying pan to cook him, or the meatballs I'd squeezed and moulded with my own fair hands.
'What's wrong with your food?' I asked him.
'Don't feel like it,' he shrugged.
When I was a child, my mother would have made me eat it for breakfast, but we live in more tolerant times, so I sat him down and asked him why.
'It's not healthy,' he said.
'What do you mean, "it's not healthy".'
'They told me at school.'
Further investigation revealed that last week was his school's 'Health Week'.
Fair enough. Round of applause. Big pat on the back for a forward-thinking initiative that was sowing the nutritional seeds for our children's longevity.
But my son had taken it literally. All the things he used to love – cheese, bacon, sausages, breaded chicken, fish, Bolognese sauce – were now off-limits.
All he wanted for his dinner was broccoli, peas, cherry tomatoes 'and a few boiled potatoes'.
But more than that, he wanted the rest of the family to eat that – and just that – too. Hence his horror when he saw me breaking his rules and 'caught me' red-handed cooking steak.
That was the straw that broke this housedad's back. I don't mind cleaning my teeth with dry toothpaste, or having a shower every other day (I don't get out much, so it makes no difference, anyway), or even not flushing the loo after I've had a wee – but I draw the line at giving up steak.
'OK,' I said, sitting my three down after a meal of lettuce leaves, sliced cucumber and carrot batons. 'Let's have a chat.'
I opened the freezer door and pointed to their favourite lollies they have after dinner.
'See those,' I said. 'Full of sugar. Bad for you.'
And then to the cupboard, to the chocolate chip cookies and Rocky bars.
'See those,' I said. 'Full of fat, salt and sugar. Bad for you.'
And then finally to the piles and piles of Moshi Monsters' and Club Penguin cards they get bought as a treat every other evening.
'And see those – all that card and packaging?' I said. 'Bad for the environment.'
They looked at me as if I'd lost the plot, but in a way I had. I was sick of this all-or-nothing approach to anything that's remotely enjoyable in life.
So I asked them: 'Shall I throw the lollies and biscuits away? Shall I put the cards in the recycling in?'
They shook their hands, panic in their eyes.
'Good,' I said. 'Now you guys go and have a lolly, go and play on the laptop and I'll go an open a bottle of red ready for when your mother gets home.'
And so they did – just one lolly, mind; and just one hour on the computer. And so did I – just one glass, mind; and one steak.
Everything in moderation. That's the key.
What do you think?
Are you bored with your children parroting 'healthy' messages rather than moderation?
Or do you think it's important to 'catch them young'?
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