His Dad flicked through the different exercise books that Tommy his son had taken from his school bag to show him. Tommy stood to the side of the armchair, and tried hard to concentrate on the matter at hand, but he was being distracted by the clock. Tommy wanted to watch his favorite TV program. It was some American superhero serial. He’d worked hard to finish his homework before the program started.
“Is this all your homework?” Tommy’s dad said.
“Yes, I’ve finished my algebra, writing up today’s Physics experiment, and I had to write a story for my English lesson.”
Algebra and Physics went over Tommy’s father head. He wasn’t unintelligent, but he was more the creative type. He liked reading.
“What’s the story about?” His father asked.
“We had to write a dialogue with two people arguing.”
“I hope your mother and I were not the subjects of your story,” he said as he smiled at Tommy, and ruffled his hair.
His Dad looked at the headline and gave a curious glance to Tommy.
“Look, I know you’ve worked hard to get this done so you can chill out in front of the TV. Let me have a read of this story while you watch your program”
Tommy looked well happy as he dived in front of the TV and held himself up on his elbows with his fists underneath his chin. David, his father picked up his empty mug and headed towards the kitchen.
Tommy’s mum was in the kitchen catching up with the newspaper. “Do you want another cuppa Dave?” she asked.
“I’d love another. Thanks love. I’m going to read Tommy’s story.”
A few minutes later he had his hot brew in front of him, and Tommy’s story. He thought it a bit of a strange topic to give a class of 13yr olds. Wasn’t the world already full of enough violence and aggressiveness?
It was definitely a catchy title: Superman V Batman.
As he made his way through the first few paragraphs he could see straight away the conflict between the two. They were arguing over who was the greatest. “Isn’t it lovely being young and seeing things so simply, black and white. As you get older we all start looking for shades of grey.” David said to his wife.
The dialogue was beginning between Superman and Batman, and the comparisons of greatness were being made. They didn’t like each other, that was for sure.
David had picked up his fresh mug of tea and was slowly bringing it to his mouth. What he read in the next paragraph made him hold the mug in place an extra couple of seconds, and subsequently, the tea scolded his bottom lip. He dropped the mug quickly to the table and raised his hand to cover his mouth. “Where has that come from?” he said to himself.
Now, he was speed-reading and looking for a pattern. Two, three, six, nine. At first, David felt his anger rise just a couple of notches, but he was well in control. He composed himself by trying to understand why.
“Tommy, can you come in here when your programs finished?” David shouted, leaning back on the chairs hind legs to make sure he was heard.
“Sure Dad.” was the reply
Tommy entered the kitchen. He stopped behind his dad, and put his arms around his dad’s neck and placed his head on David’s collar bone. “What did you think of the story?”
“I haven’t finished it yet. I like the introduction, but I wanted you to explain something to me.”
David remembered when he was younger he had done a similar thing in one of his English essays. He like Tommy had shown it to his Dad for checking, but his Dad had flown off the handle. David didn’t want to replicate that day now.
“Grab a chair Tommy” Tommy chose the chair opposite his Dad. He sensed he was in trouble.
“I noticed that in the dialogue you’ve decided that your two characters should swear at each other. What’s the reason for that?”
Tommy’s face lost it’s colour after the first question. He was in trouble. His heartbeat increased a bit. Yet, he knew that his Dad very rarely disciplined him before they’d communicated about it first. He felt comforted by his father’s tone and the second question. He wasn’t being judged before he’d explained.
“The teacher told us that we should express ourselves. Some of my mates said if we added a “shock” factor then we had a better chance to score a higher grade. They said people that swear come across as more creative, assertive and cool. Anyway, everyone swears now, it’s becoming more and more acceptable.”
David couldn’t disagree with some of what Tommy had said. He had noticed recently after signing up to some websites that allowed people to self-publish their stories, that many of the highest recommended stories had an expletive in the title. If it wasn’t written in the title, it would definitely be found in the main body of text.
“I’m definitely not against you expressing yourself. You know, the English language is a beautifully melodic language. There are so many ways of saying the same thing in our language. That’s what puts a lot of people off from learning English. An expletive definitely catches people’s attention, but does it really accurately describe what the person is feeling.”
“Normally, when you hear people use this kind of language you automatically think they’re aggressive. In an argument, it’s not about who shouts the loudest, or uses the most confrontational language that wins. The winner is the one who is able, in full control of his emotions and words put across the tightest and most convincing argument.”
“Anyone can throw in a few words for “shock”. Yet, it is more creative to be able to describe and explain how one feels. There are many layers to feelings, and your language needs to show the reader those layers.”
“Remember, you don’t write to be noticed, recommended and liked. You have to remain true to yourself. We don’t use this kind of language in the house do we?”
“No Dad,” Tommy said.
“You never hear me or your Mum use those words?”
“No Dad,” Tommy said.
“Good lad.” His Dad said and smiled.
“I have an idea. Let’s go through the dialogue part together and we’ll come up together with some new ways to more finely express your emotions, thoughts and points. Maybe we can add some analogies, synonyms, metaphors. We can blow the dust of the thesaurus, and see what it gives us?”
“What’s an analogy Dad?”
“No worries. I’ll explain as we go.” His dad said. “You want a drink before we start?”
Later, as Tommy was lying in bed underneath his Spider-Man duvet he read again his finished homework. He’d completely rewritten his homework. He was happy that he had abandoned the first draft. He and his dad had come up with 3 illustrations, a number of metaphors and synonyms. He felt good at the changes. He felt that he had learned a way to deal with confrontation or expressing his emotion. If he needed it, then he could keep his emotions in check, and put across a convincing line of reasoning.
As he turned out the light, he was grateful for his Dad’s approach. His Dad had given him confidence, now he just wanted his teacher to give him a good mark.