The other night, my eldest son asked me if he could stay up to watch the latest women's world cup football match. 'No, it's a school night,' I told him in my new no nonsense, don't mess with me, single-dad voice. In a previous incarnation of our life, I might have told him to ask his mother.
'That's not fair. When will I be able to stay up for as long as I want,' my fifteen year old asked.
'When you're grown-up.'
'When will that be?'
'That's a good question,' I responded.
In his desperation to stay up later - a desperation that goes far beyond watching women's football - son number one ratcheted his protest up a notch or two. 'But I'll be able to have sex next year. And the year after, I'll be able to drive. Surely this year I should be able to stay up as long as I want?'
Even though there is a certain logic to my son's argument, and a frightening logic at that, in true parental mode, and for selfish reasons as much as for the good of my sons, I refused to give ground. That hour or so after the kids go to bed is 'me time'. It's when I reacquaint myself with the remote control, with a glass of wine and, more often than not, with my sanity. It's my relaxation hour. I couldn't cope with my boys throughout the day if I didn't have my 'me time' to look forward to last thing at night.
Last night, once I had sent my boys to bed (slightly after nine o'clock) and poured myself a glass of wine, instead of locating the remote control, I found a pen and paper. My intention was to write a list of tests that the boys have to pass before they can call themselves grown-up.
What do you think of the below. I am thinking a score of ten yesses will constitute a partial late pass, but only if they sweep the board with twenty-one yesses will my boys get an unqualified 'you decide your bedtime' badge.
Are you grown-up?
1) Do you do your homework without being prompted?
2) If you only have enough money to buy one thing from the supermarket, would you ignore the sweets and go for a main course?
3) Would you wash your own shirt if your dad was out and there were no more clean shirts in your wardrobe?
4) If you could have one bar of chocolate today or two tomorrow, would you wait until tomorrow?
5) The dog constantly interrupts your computer game because he's bored? Rather than shut him in the back room, do you take him for a walk?
6) If your dad is out for the day, would you at least make beans on toast at lunchtime rather than having a second bowl of cerials?
7) Do you regularly tidy your room, knowing full well that it makes it easier for you to find that vital school book?
8) Do you put a new toilet roll in the holder when the old one runs out, rather than shouting manically when you realise you are in need of assistance?
9) Would you voluntarily go to bed early at night in order to be extra fresh for your exam the next day?
10) Do you lock the back door and shut your big bedroom window before going out?
11) Do you do the washing up or wait until rats have invaded the kitchen before taking action?
12) Do you take the wrappers out of your pockets before you put your trousers in the wash?
13) Do you ever actually put your trousers in the wash?
14) Do you make your pocket money last throughout the summer holidays?
15) Do you wear your cycling helmet without fail, even if your dad is miles away and won't see you?
16) Do you even know which cupboard the shoe polish is kept in?
17) Do you play a forward defensive to a straight ball in cricket?
18) Your dad is thinking about re-introducing the convention of having actual conversations at the dinner table. Does this scare you?
19) When someone asks you what your shoe size is, do you tell the truth rather than add two to your score to make it look as though you are more man-like than your mates?
20) This is quite an important one. Do you remember Father's Day and spoil your dad?
21) Have you moved out of your parental home?
I love my boys to bits but I reckon that, if I am being generous, they would score one and a half at best. I don't mind though because they are children and children shouldn't grow up too soon.
If I have missed any tests out, feel free to let me know. I would be only too happy to add to this list.
Ben Adams is the author of Six Months to Get a Life, the fictional tale of a man coping with divorce, struggling to remain a good dad and wondering whether he will ever have sex again.