Sunday, June 04, 2006


I am very sensitive to unnecessary noise, and I assume that my father, with his vastly more frustrated and annoyed personality, was too. We learned to do most things carefully and quietly, to avoid angering him and, frankly, because it's the best way. Handling things smoothly and gently, with precision, is a mark of class. Banging and fumbling things is not.

Our family dining experience -- insofar as was possible with three kids -- was a remarkably quiet and civil event, at least in terms of the hushed employment of utensils. The vile things that were said were another matter, but it was very rare that a metal spoon would clatter against a china bowl. And so it was all the more remarkable when I discovered my father doing it on purpose.

I forget how old I was, but I'm guessing I was five. There was some topic of conversation on which I wanted to self-congratulate. I don't remember what it was, but I wanted to share my thoughts and approach on the issue.

I was probably about to say something annoying and stupid. But I thought I was sharing wisdom with the masses. I started to say my bit, amid the palimpsest of voices, but I was cut off by my father's utensils clattering on his plate.

Due to the brief paused the racket drew from me, I lost the floor. I waited till the siblings were done repeating their own self heraldry, and then started in with my bit -- but was again foiled by the noise from my father's plate. The thought formed in my mind: Could he be doing that on purpose because he's annoyed by what he thinks I'm going to say?

I tested my hypothesis by trying several more times to offer my thoughts on the subject at hand, each time to be interrupted by a dramatic racket from my father's plate. I concluded that he was annoyed, and this was his way of showing it.

It's rare that I saw my parents for what they were, instead of ignoring my own impressions or making up excuses for them. This was one time.

When my son he being obstreperous at the dinner table, and is about to repeat some childish, rebellious nonsense, I have noticed my own fork clattering deliberately at the edge of the plate.

Maybe if I can control the urge, my kids won't pass it on to their kids.
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