Meet the master

A meeting with his son’s teacher showed our columnist who was (really) the boss

Riley Hunt.


Over the past six years, my son Riley has evolved into a master manipulator.

An expert at getting what he wants, he shrewdly employs pleas, compliments and perfectly placed phrases such as “But… I love you.”

The most dangerous weapon in his arsenal though, is his wit. It’s a thing he wields with merciless efficiency. Last week, we were at his grandparents’ trailer, eating deliciously fluffy pancakes.  He leans over to me and whispers, “Grandma’s pancakes are way better than Mommy’s.”

I laughed and repeated what he said. His mother walked past with a bemused glower.  His response? “Hey, Daddy said it. Not me.” My kid threw me under a bus in a heartbeat.

Bedtime routine used to be a demanding thing.  He fought sleep and his preferred delaying tactic was to ask for water. Which I suppose wasn’t terrible in and of itself.  Except of course, that he sometimes peed the bed.  So, water was out.

One night he called to us. We told him no water. He called again. We cheerfully ignored him. Then he dropped the bomb. “Daddy… I’m scared.”

There was no way I could ignore a frightened child. When I got there, he didn’t look afraid. In fact, he was smiling. “Daddy, I thought I heard a noise in the bathroom.  And when you’re in there can you get me a drink?”

I didn’t realize how good he was at manipulation until his mother and I were called in to his school for a meeting with his teacher.

We put him in French immersion class, so we presumed it was because he was having problems learning a second language.

Sure enough, his teacher mentioned he was having a slightly tough time with French, but if we worked on it at home, he’d be fine. She then got this look in her eyes, like she had something important to say but just couldn’t find the words. Until she did.

“Your son … how do I say this?  I think your son might be babied at home.”

My girlfriend instantly pointed at me and bellowed, “THAT’S HIM!” Throwing Daddy under a bus is a household tradition apparently.

Before I could feel embarrassed, the teacher explained Riley was always the last child to get ready in the morning. That he was always trying to get a teacher to dress him. She then added Riley said his mother had told him to tell his teachers they had to help him get dressed.

His mother was mortified.  I smiled so hard it hurt.

He’d twisted something his mother had said a few months before about asking for help with his new mittens. He’s been dressing himself since before he was three. 

When we explained this to his teacher, she laughed and said, “Wow… he’s manipulative.”

On the way home, his mother was livid. She decided we’d talk to him while he was strapped in the car seat. Not only was he being lazy at school, he’d made her look silly in front of his teacher.  This wasn’t just about parenting now. It was personal.

“Riley,” she began, “Your teacher says you’re manipulative.” Her voice was a terrifying marriage of maternal warmth and icy vengeance.

“What does that mean, Mommy?” I actually felt sorry for the kid. He didn’t realize what was about to happen. Or did he?

“It means you’re really good at getting out of doing something you don’t want to.”

Riley’s response stopped his mother in her tracks for the rest of the evening.

“Oh. Maybe we should talk about this later so you can focus on the road.”