YOUNG Tom has developed an unfortunate habit of breaking into his sisters' phonecalls. Having extensions in two rooms means that he can lift up a receiver and say "Hello Fatty Poo Poo" whenever the mood takes him. Which is often. Thirteen-year-old Sarah, who has teenage cool to cultivate, objects. Through representations to her mother she has got "Fatty Poo Poo" listed as an offence that could cost a boy his pocket money.
Unfortunately, as soon as I had given Tom his modest pound;1.50 last Saturday, "Fatty Poo Poo" struck. It felt petty to demand the pocket money back and pointless to threaten next week's would be forfeit so, flabbily, I told him he couldn't go the cinema that afternoon with the girls. Tom was distraught. The girls weren't too pleased either as taking Tom was their excuse to get into a Disney for which they both felt too sophisticated. They went nevertheless but grumpily. I was grumpy too - I'd been planning a five-mile walk for the two hours everyone was out and there was no way Tom could accompany me.
To make matters worse the grandparents were comng for supper and my mother takes it amiss if everyone isn't cheery on her arrival.
In the end, looking at Tom's abject face, I offered to rent The Sound of Music, a curious video favourite of my son's. Tom was greatly cheered.
Unfortunately, because it's a tradition that we sit together and eat chocolate digestives during "Edelweiss", I was feeling doubly nauseous by the time every mountain had been climbed. Nevertheless when the grandparents came by Tom was restored to happiness.
I couldn't help feeling that I'd been a pretty irresponsible father though. Sometimes, as Captain von Trapp knows, a parent has to be willing to be unpopular. My problem - and I think I'm not unique - is that I want to be Julie Andrews. A home where there is discipline is one where the parents don't mind being hated from time to time. Victorian fathers who said: "This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you", were right.
Too many of us today don't dare discipline, not because we are weak, but because we want permanent "Doh Re Mes" ringing out around the place.