Robert had already decided what course of action he was going to take in turning Chris into a worthwhile human being. First, he was going to try and get him in shape with some activity and exercise. He might try and teach him focus with some sports. He would get him to engage in some strenuous work in order to build his ethic. Once he thought Chris was ready, he would let him start working at the closest warehouse and teach him the value of working for a living. It would be a chore, he knew. But, if Chris responded well, then he’d be on his way to manhood. If Chris didn’t respond well, it was over. Robert would wash his hands with him.
His first order of business was to sit Chris down and have a stern and adult conversation with him. Chris had been avoiding him ever since the beating. This was a good sign, Robert decided. This meant that Chris understood something–possibly consequence. A little bit of reality that he was not in charge of the entire world had slipped in. That was a good start.
One day, when he had little work to do, Robert called upstairs and told Chris to come down to his office in the basement. To Robert’s surprise, Chris did not protest. He hung up the phone and came right down. Chris was always sluggish, so it took him a few minutes. When he arrived, it was obvious he had made a pit-stop at the refrigerator because a twenty-ounce cola was sticking out of the pocket of his favorite robe and he was eating an ice cream sandwich with three more on deck in his other hand.
Robert could have gone upstairs and talked to Chris, but he wanted to further make the point that Chris was not the boss, but an underling in their household. He had to learn humility and humbleness. Robert was not going to ease up on him or give him a break.
After thumping slowly down the stairs, Chris plodded across the first room of the basement beyond the other rooms, straight to the back where Robert’s spacious corner office was. From his vantage point, he saw Chris tromping across the basement, chewing on his snack. He stuffed the last part in his mouth, opened the second and bit off more than half and chewed. By the time he reached the doorway, he was swallowing the last bit of that one and biting into the third. Before he crossed the office and stood before Robert’s great, dark, wooden desk, he was biting through the first half of his last sandwich.
It made Robert sick to watch Chris hog down those ice creams. No reasonable human being should even be able to do that. He had bits of the chocolate layers and the vanilla ice cream smeared on his lips and fingertips. He chewed with his mouth open, revealing the dark remnants that had stuck to his gummy teeth. He breathed heavily while gnawing and, with his mouth stuffed full, he asked, “What is it, dad?”
He smacked and sucked and finally swallowed in a symphony of sick sounds. He balled up the wrappers and set them on the desk, then took out his cola and guzzled for about fifteen seconds, gulping hard before finishing the whole thing. He then sighed, belched loudly, sighed again, and set the empty bottle on the desk.
Robert stared at his grotesque son for a moment.
Robert pointed at the garbage Chris had placed on his desk. “Take all of that stuff, throw it in the trash. Then, go to the bathroom, wash your hands, clean your teeth and wipe your face. After you’re done, go up to your room, change into a shirt and either some shorts or pants, and come back down.”
Chris’s face got red. “Why?”
“Because I said so. It’s six in the evening. There’s no reason for you to be in your robe.”
“I’m down for the night, dad. I’m taking it easy.”
“You’ve been taking it easy your whole life, Chris. It’s time for that to end.”
Chris started to get nervous. Robert saw it. “What do you mean it’s over?”
“I mean that no more lying around all day. You’re going to start getting active, doing stuff, working. You’ll be sixteen soon.”
“Working? What do you mean? What will I be doing?”
“Whatever I need.”
“It won’t be outside work will it?”
“Some of it.”
“Like what?” Chris was growing frantic. There was an edge to his tone. “I won’t be cutting grass, will I? It gets too hot.”
“That’ll be one thing. You’ll be working in the garden. Helping me trim the trees and bushes. I’m going to show you how to pressure wash the driveway and concrete patios. You’ll be helping me wash windows, scrub out trash cans, clean the car and whatever else I need done. When fall comes you’ll be raking leaves and pulling the harvest from our gardens. You’ll help us wash and put away all the outside furniture. When winter gets here, you’ll be shoveling snow, scraping windows, chipping ice, and whatever else needs doing.”
Chris looked like he was going to cry. “I can’t do all that, dad. I’m not cut out for that kind of work. It’s really cold in winter. You know how sensitive I get to the cold. And I get overheated in the summer. What if I pass out?”
“But, I thought you were strong, Chris. I mean, look how broad your shoulders are,” Robert mocked. “It’s time we put them to use.”
“I don’t know, dad.”
“It’s not an option, son. It’s the new way of things. Now, go up and get yourself presentable and come back down.”
“But dad,” he whined.
“In fact, just go on upstairs and take a shower and brush your teeth. That’s something else that needs to change–your lack of hygiene.”
“I don’t need a shower.”
“Yes you do. I can smell you from right here.”
“I don’t take showers. I take baths. I like to soak.”
“That’s because you’re lazy. From now on, showers–no baths. Get in, wash your hair, your body, top to bottom, and get out. No hanging around under the stream. Use shampoo and soap and a washrag. Then, brush your teeth and gargle mouthwash. That starts tonight.”
“But, come on, daddy,” he said.
“And don’t call me daddy, anymore. It’s either dad or sir. Understand?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Okay, I’ll call you dad.”
“Now, I gave you an order, so get your ass in gear. I want you clean and bright, down here in this chair ready to listen in no more than twenty-minutes.”