Figuring Out Fatherhood: Santa's Watching You


There are a few things which signal the imminent arrival of Christmas. 'I'm a Celebrity' is one of them, sadly. The Coca-Cola adverts are another - the continuous supply of caffeine, incidentally, allowing Father Christmas to make it around the world in just one night.

There's another sign that Christmas is approaching, though, which I use to devastating effect: blackmailing my kids.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love Christmas. I adore watching my sons' faces as they tear open wrapping paper, the cosiness of the tree, everyone wearing a paper crown and looking a bit daft, the self-satisfied bloatedness felt after Christmas dinner.

But as a parent, the ability to emotionally blackmail my children is something which I take full advantage of – and I'm sure I'm not alone. At least, I hope I'm not alone.

Throughout the majority of the year the only disciplinary weapons at my disposal are a few stern words using my Very Firm Voice and a withering glare, neither of which really helps in Sainsbury's when my son is on his back having a paddy next to the Pom-Bears.

But as Christmas approaches I can use Santa to my advantage, and this is where the emotional blackmail comes into play.

Any child who thinks that Father Christmas is watching them - cruelly scratching items off his present list every time they are naughty - is guaranteed to start behaving. That's a tried and tested fact.

Throwing a tantrum in Sainsbury's? You'd better get up, Noah, or Father Christmas won't bring you any presents.

Won't go to bed? Don't be naughty, Isaac, Santa is watching you. He sees you when you're sleeping, and knows when you're awake, don't forget.

It sounds cruel, and writing it down in stark black and white brings me a twinge of guilt; but it really works. The very thought of coming downstairs on Christmas morning to an untouched mince pie and a bare living room floor is enough to turn my children into obedient robots for at least a month; and my guilt is tempered by the fact that come Boxing Day the Santa blackmailing will be useless and I'll be back to hoping I can discipline my children in public using telepathy alone.

I cannot be the only parent who does this, and as mean as it may be I only get to do it for a short time every year. The fact of the matter is, it works – and it works well.

And, in a world where many exasperated parents are at the end of their tether, anything which works will be used. Even if it does mean turning what should be a magical childhood fantasy into the rather disturbing image of an old man with a white beard watching your every move.