My Fatherly Appeal to My Sons for Cleanliness

[I wrote the following for my sons after my wife notified me afresh of a number of infractions they had committed in the area of cleanliness.]

To my sons,

As a parent of young men, one is often confronted with the unenviable task of maintaining order and cleanliness. These twin concepts are different but inseparable; and it is the peculiar trait of we savages to buck and fight against both; not only on the grand scale of national relations, but on the most basic level: brushing one’s teeth and tidying one’s mess.

Swats and wacks have a way of swaying the convictions (or at least actions) of the especially young, but when those years have been succeeded by what might be called maturity, and that maturity doesn’t manifest due cleanliness and self-regulation, the bewildered parent is required to pursue more sophisticated avenues of persuasion. One might call this the rational appeal.

Here the idea is to leave behind all methods of direct pain and forceful pointing, and even perhaps the well trodden paths of cajoling and brutish command. After all, what enlightened son of burgeoning adulthood desires to be scolded by his mother for leaving behind stale underwear? No young nobleman would dare shoulder such an embarrassment. He would rather bear torture than taste such shame.

But even as I say this, it ought to be admitted that every noble harbors a wolfish desire to squat and leave his droppings in unseemly localities, at least sometimes.

So when that happens, what is the parent to do?

Three options present themselves. And each carry positives and negatives.

The first is to resort to beatings, rods, and all other manner of corporeal punishment. This is of course no good. Not at this stage in the game.

The second is to dangle sweet promises of reward, or to encourage and motivate through inspirational speech. This is certainly worth considering. But of course it runs adrift on jagged rocks when the young man more highly values their trash and dirty pans. The idea here as the parent, quite naturally, is to enact a strategy that works. Thus, if Braveheart himself cannot rally the troops, casualties will mount. This will not do. Not in a world full of women.

The third is to berate and exhort with tears, harnessing those ancient arts of shame and guilt, hoping that by some dim sliver of light the young man will do his duty. This sometimes works, but typically without perseverance. A dirty skillet here. A discarded sock there. And before long the old wolfish habits take control; but not entirely, mind you. There is an invisible line. Or perhaps it would be better to say there is a dance that is performed whereby the young men do not indulge savagery wholesale, but they maintain the proverbial drip, thereby introducing a level of disorder that is worthy of note. Let us just say that it drives those more responsible and elegant inhabitants of the home to states of unrest; for such offenses not only offend the natural beauty of the abode, but it leads to their having to do more work. And this will certainly not do.

So what is the parent to do? Beat? No. Punish? Perhaps. Exhort? Surely sometimes. Encourage? Certainly. Beg? Not here.

The real problem resides in laziness and disobedience. To the extent that those exist, to that same extent conflict and nagging and difficulties will emerge. Why? Because irresponsibility always bumps up against reality. And reality wins. Always. Either sooner or later reality wins.

So here’s the painful reality for young nobles who still wrestle with wolfish tendencies. If you want peace and comfort and freedom and joy, and if you want to run with the current of reality, splashing happily in its waves, you need to do the following:

  • Leave no trash or dirty dishes in your room.

  • Clean thy pan and the stove after cooking.

  • Take out the trash when it is full.

  • Put your dirty dishes in dishwasher after scraping and rinsing them.

  • Clean up thy crumbs and food from the floor and counter.

See these things as showing your mother love. She is not a slave, but a woman. See these things as keeping your father happy, as he will be more free to enjoy the peace and joy of a smooth running home. See these things as agents advancing self-discipline. Reality beckons you to it and will reward you both now and in the future. And lastly, but not lastly, see these things as small endeavors fulfilling that great endeavor to subdue this rock of resources and potential. It is all training for bigger projects. As it has been said, he who is faithful in small things will be fit for faithfulness with bigger things (Luke 16:10).

One hates to end on a sour note, but it must be said, and said sadly, that if these laws are not fulfilled, sadness, loss of freedom, and irritation will follow. And unfortunately, it won’t just affect you. Sin affects entire communities. It will start in this home.

So please increase my joy and yours by doing these small, but significant things.

With love,

Your Dad

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