“You hit your dad pretty hard and he’s very upset,” says my wife. In fact, he just hit me, and for the third time in a row. When he was almost three years old, his blows weren’t exactly damaging. It usually feels a bit like a squirrel in tiny oven mitts. But he has to learn that this is not right, so I take the position of someone mortally wounded and, worse still, deeply wounded by the experience.
On such occasions, we observe the time-honored three-second rule of punching for young children: generally receive a free jab for which the harshest penalty is an assertive, but de-escalation, ‘Hey, now!’ If it fills up with John Prescott with a follow-up hit within a second of the first, we assume battle stations. ‘Hey hey! We don’t hit people, ” we’ll say, with the stern countenance of a soccer referee, one of those seniors who used to fit in in FA Cup final appearances between their full-time job as platform workers. oil companies or prison cooks.
Once three seconds have passed without a ceasefire, or a third excavation is launched, we arbitrarily decide that it is ‘a thing’ and approach the event with the solemnity it deserves. We adopt a united front. “Now ask your dad for forgiveness,” says my wife. I bow my head significantly. Sometimes I do throw a few sobs, but not enough to make it into a comedy routine. It is a delicate balance, but luckily I am a talented actor.
My son is not moved. There is a familiar pause when he seems to accept the error of his ways, but flatly refuses to apologize. This is no longer a linguistic oddity. He knows the word, he just dislikes the emotional cost of admitting his own crimes. This is doubly frustrating for us. On the one hand, we are trying to teach you about responsibility and caring for others, so your refusal to apologize is a tiring setback. On the other, it feels like an affront to our culture.
The Irish say a lot that they are sorry. Reflectively apologizing is something that is etched into our psyche, like boiling meat or telling people how much our clothes cost every time someone compliments them. It’s as Irish as being publicly upset when people say Saoirse Ronan is British, or privately upset when she speaks with a slightly exaggerated Irish accent on talk shows.
I have apologized to people for tipping them excessively with a note because I had no change. I apologized for walking to the lamp posts and, in a moment of bravado of thoughtless repentance, for a deluge of water thrown by a passing bus. I’m pretty sure I apologize when I hang up on robocalls. If a robber ever covered my mouth while stealing my belongings, he would probably be muttering a muffled ‘I’m sorry’ through his gloved fingers.
Now the only ruthless criminal here is my son. With a heavy mouth and dazzling eyes, he offers his little hand to stroke my head in a non-verbal apology that will have to suffice for now. Sometimes sorry really is the hardest word.
Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism