The Voice of the Father

Hey son come here a minute. I want you and me to have a little talk. How come you always turn pale when we have a little talk. You delicate? Pore delicate little flower? Naw you ain’t, you’re a man, son, or will be someday the good Lord willin’. But you got to do right. That’s what I want to talk to you about. Now put down that comic book and come on over here and sit by me. Sit right there. Make yourself comfortable. Now, you comfortable? Good. Son, I want to talk to you about your personal habits. Your personal habits. We ain’t never talked about your personal habits and now it’s time. I been watchin’ you, kid. Your personal habits are admirable. yes they are. They are flat admirable. I like the way you pick up your room. You run a clean room, son, I got to hand it to you. And I like the way you clean your teeth. You brush right, in the right direction, and you brush a lot. You’re goin’ to have good gums, kid, good healthy gums. We ain’t gonna have to lay out no money to get your teeth fixed, your mother and I, and that’s a blessing and we thank you. And you keep yourself clean, kid, clothes neat, hands clean, face clean, knees clean, that’s the way to hop, way to hop. There’s just one little thing, son, one little thing that puzzles me. I been studyin’ ’bout it and I flat don’t understand it. How come you spend so much time washn’ your hands, kid? I been watchin’ you. You spend an hour after breakfast washin’ your hands. Then you go wash ’em again ’bout ten-thirty, ten-forty, ’nother fifteen minutes washin’ your hands. Then after lunch, sometimes an hour, sometimes less, it varies. I been noticin’. Then in the middle of the afternoon back in there washin’ your hands. Then before supper and after supper and before you go to bed and sometimes you get up in the middle of the night and go in there and wash your hands. Now I’d think you were in there playin’ with your little pecker, ’cept you a shade young for playin’ with your little pecker and besides you leave the door open, most kids close the door when they go in there to play with their little peckers but you leave it open. So I see you in there and I see what you’re doin’, you’re washin’ your hands. And I been keepin’ track of it son, you spend ’bout three-quarters of your wakin’ hours washin’ your hands. And I think there’s somethin’ a little bit strange about that, son. It ain’t natural. So what I want to know is how come you spend so much time washin’ your hands, son? Can you tell me? Huh? Well, can you? Huh? You got anything to say on this subject? Well, what’s the matter? You’re just sittin’ there. Well come on, son, what you got to say for yourself? What’s the explanation? Now it won’t do you no good to start cryin’, son, that don’t help anything. OK kid stop crying. I said stop it! I’m goin’ to whack you, kid, you don’t stop cryin’. Now cut that out. This minute. Now cut it out. Goddamn baby. Come on now kid, get ahold of yourself. Now go wash your face and come on back in here, I want to talk to you some more. Wash your face, don’t do that other. Now go on in there and get back in here right quick. I want to talk to you ’bout bumpin’ your head, son, against the wall, ’fore you got to sleep. I don’t like it. You’re too old to do that. It disturbs me. I can hear you in there, when you go to bed, bump bump bump bump bump bump bump bump bump. It’s disturbing. It’s monotonous. It’s a very disturbing sound. I don’t like it. I don’t like listenin’ to it. I want you to stop it. I want you to get ahold of yourself. I don’t like to hear that noise when I’m sittin’ in here tryin’ to read the paper or whatever I’m doin’, I don’t like to hear it and it bothers your mother. It gets her all upset and I don’t like your mother to be all upset, just on accounta you. Bump bump bump bump bump bump bump bump bump, what are you kid, some kind of animal? I cain’t figure you out, kid, I just flat cain’t understand it, bump bump bump bump bump bump bump. Dudden’t hurtcha? Dudden’t hurtcha head? Well, never mind about that right now. Go on in there and wash your face, and then come on back in here and we’ll talk some more. And don’t do none of that other, just wash your face. You got three minutes.

Donald Barthelme
“A Manual for Sons”

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