Across generous, malleable notepads my father, in his generous ductile script, would compile lists of chores to be undertaken by his children.
This scheming took place in the productive hush of very early mornings as the rest of us slept. He never had a den, so would commandeer one end of the dining room table, demarcating his WFH space with a blanket upon which the evidence of his toil could be found: a fountain pen, those hefty pads, scrunched paper tumbleweeds of aborted plans, a cup and saucer stained by International Roast and, depending on whether it was a smoking decade, an ashtray plugged with cold, acrid butts.
Thinking about this paternal fixture brings to mind Shirley Hazzard's description of the "secretary of dark wood" belonging to the father of the protagonist in her novel, The Great Fire.
"This desk had been so much part of the climate of family life, indivisible from his father's moods - and even appearing, to the child, to generate them - that the son had never until now inspected it with adult eyes."
Emulating my own father, I took up cigarettes and list-making, too, and, so far, have managed to kick only one of these nasty habits.
It's surprising I create lists at all because I came to fear dad's lengthy prescriptions. As I grew, so did the number of Herculean labours doled out Saturday morning to be completed by Sunday afternoon; lawn mowing, car/dog/concrete-washing, pool maintenance (yes, the very definition of a first-world problem), gutter-clearing, push-ups ...
Naturally, I came to view these suburban punishments as certainly cruel and surely unusual, until, that was, I'd swap notes with similarly calloused and aggrieved schoolmates on Monday mornings and learn they too had been operating under the tyranny of sadistic parents with messy backyards and an endless supply of paper. In fact, I had it easy compared with some of my contemporaries who lived on working farms. A weekend of hay-bailing, drenching or mass testicle-removal sounded a lot worse than switching on the Kreepy Krauly.
Thirty years later, as if an oven-warming witch in a ginger bread house, I find myself greedily assessing the physical development of my own children, impatient for them to be big enough to help out around the place (in strict accordance with a mindfully curated rubric, of course).
We're getting there, though.
All three are quite capable of emptying the dishwasher - a task which has the bicker-inducing qualities of being burdened with a horcrux - or vacuuming a bedroom and, happily, throughout autumn, I discovered the kids are dynamite (if not scowling and offended) on the end of a rake; a skill in demand on a block which cops a deciduous dumping more akin to nuclear fallout than the gentle portent of changing seasons.
At one point, I was just so deliriously grateful to be getting some assistance with the leaves after almost 20 years of doing the raking myself, I declared, commensurate with their efforts, I'd throw my helpers "a few bucks".
This ill-judged offering seemed to send an electric shock around the property, the kids' ears pricking like antennae as they swapped the kind of glances shared by pick-pocketing gangs when a fat mark wanders down Portobello Road.
"How much, guvna?" the lead urchin demanded.
"Gee, I dunno ... 10 bucks?"
"Umm, yes ... yes ... OK."
Again, the trio made the kind of blood-chilling, non-verbal agreement settled upon by a Dickensian/dystopian pack of strays and went back to their work without complaint.
Even in an economic climate of stagnating wages and stalled inflation, I still wasn't sure whether my JobKeeper overtures were perfectly reasonable, sweat-shop stingy or DINK OTT and it wasn't until a week or so after the 30 dollars (which, written down, does seem like a lot of money) had been snatched away, I discovered I had indeed been fleeced by our troupe of opportunistic grifters.
They already get $10 a week. For doing nothing.
I suppose it's my chauvinistic failing as a husband I had no idea this distribution of familial wealth was taking place but, to me, pocket money is more in my wife's domain, as I'm quite sure she sees cleaning out the grease trap or death-wrestling a home invader as residing firmly on my side of the ledger.
So, as explained to me, each child gets $10 a week, half of which is saved and the remaining $5 discretionary income (my nine-year-old seems to be applying all his discretion on accumulating 'Pop Its' - the latest schoolyard fad in petroleum-based products destined for landfill).
MORE B. R. DOHERTY:
The revelation of this arrangement is actually a comfort because it solves the "my own money" mystery, something I've struggled with for years.
After surfing the internet, the children invariably want to buy something they've just seen on the internet, a quasi-request usually accompanied by the confusing coda, "I'll use my own money".
I'm 70 per cent certain none of the kids have been ducking out at night to drive a taxi or gut chickens on an assembly line, so this financial independence always raised concerns but because I'm a father, I obviously have no right whatsoever to question the private dealings of my own offspring.
Now, belatedly coming to terms with being a pocket money family, I've been catching up on the whole concept and, as it seems for parents around the world, I still don't know whether I'm for or against it.
On the one hand, it's patently ridiculous a fed, housed and clothed child should be receiving a stipend for simply existing but, on the other, teaching kids about the value of a dollar is probably important.
More perplexing, once you begin investigating the idea, you soon discover pocket money has become just one more element of family life being exploited by digital entrepreneurs who've identified a gap in the market.
These days, as we stream late into the night, internet-addicted parents can use apps to manage their children's fiscal literacy, while ordering boxes of preassembled meals and splashing out on a pair of $300 runners, all with their "own money", which, in reality, is "the bank's own money".
Pocket money or not, when you can shop online in a country consumed by the culture of debt, every day can be Christmas Day, and no one's checking those lists.
- B. R. Doherty is a regular columnist.