Now and then, a pair of arguments break out at our dinner table. These arguments may be a perverse form of bonding between my children and my husband; on the other hand, these so-called “discussions” may take place because husband and children are all just plain crazy.
The first argument concerns whether the earth is flat. My husband, the scientist, stands four-square in the flat earth camp. My children argue the spherical side. My husband relies on empirical observation: the sun appears to circle, he has never seen it do any thing different, and everything else but direct observation can be faked. (The “everything else can be faked” side of his personality sometimes makes a simple conversation with him a challenge to my saintly nature.)
My children rely on a wealth of sources: Galileo, NASA, encyclopedias, science textbooks. He counters with “Don’t believe everything you read.” (This attitude makes a trip to a restaurant a challenge, what with the need to have me explain unknown items to him, and then quizzing the waiter as to the same items. I haven’t been wrong yet, but does this stop what he calls “verifying information”? It does not. But I digress.)
He says, if the earth is round, why don’t we fly off? My children explain gravity, more or less correctly. He appears skeptical.
This argument almost always ends with someone with his or her hands sunk in his or her hair, ready to tear it out, as well as making inarticulate cries of frustration. My husband enjoys this sight, and the moans are as the pealing of happy bells to him. It fills him with satisfaction with his offspring.
The second argument comes from the comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes.” Just as some households are God-centered, ours has been, at various times, Calvin and Hobbes-centered. If this isn’t asking for trouble, I don’t know what is.
The son’s stuffed tiger, which looks like a bear but is not, is named Hobbes. We all speak to Hobbes and listen to his advice. His comfort concerns us. We greet him with joy on his return from his retreats in the back bedroom closet. He is often asked to intercede on our behalf when the son is proving difficult.
However, life with Hobbes is not all roses. I believe it was his influence that caused the kidnap note to be left in the back window of the car. The sheriff’s department was not amused.
Calvin’s father is also a bad influence on my husband, which is where the second argument starts. My husband adheres to strict “Calvin’s Fatherism” in the notion that the world used to be black and white. All of the world, not just photographs and television. And that sometime in the sixties, everything went colorized.
My husband will reminisce at length about the black and white days. When grilled about pre-sixties paintings and the luminous colors of Van Gogh or Monet, he’ll say, “I think paintings changed some time in 1962.”
When asked about the colors of nature, he’ll sigh with satisfaction. “Much nicer now, isn’t it?”
When met with any kind of skepticism, he says, “Prove it wasn’t black and white.”
Again, the tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth, and quiet satisfaction oozing from the man of the house.
My hope is that all this serves a higher purpose. My children may find inspiration to create the first working time machine just to prove him wrong, although as readers of science fiction, we all know time machines are even more trouble than persistent dinner table arguments.
Without a doubt, my children are learning. They know the term “preponderance of evidence”. They know how to build a well-argued case, accumulate data, and, dare I say it, verify information. They are learning that the patently absurd can be passionately argued, and it still isn’t true.
And I’ve told them to save their pennies, so that when their father dies, they can afford to send his ashes into space. Then, as he spins in eternal orbit around our blue-green marble, they can have the last laugh.