My partner, Jon, is a pretty great guy.
We'd been dating steadily since college, but he was freelancing then, newly qualified as a journalist, making a pittance and living at home, while I'd just qualified as a lawyer and had to take what posts there were - which ended up being over 100 miles from home. So instead of committing to a long distance relationship we agreed, nothing changed between us but we let things happen as they happened.
So I ended up in my flat, miles away, going home every couple of weeks to see my parents and Jon, and Jon coming to visit whenever he could find the time. Which worked out fine I suppose for about six months. And then work started to get heavier, and I started to get less organised and it all began to get away from me. I'd always been conscientious, my parents used to term me as the kid incapable of cutting corners, but there are only so many hours in the day and perfection takes time and effort. I began to bring work home. I began to work at the office late, not just occasionally but every night. I began to regard weekends as time to catch up. And ever so slowly I painted myself right into a corner.
I'd just made it home one Friday night, about seven pm purely because the cleaners had thrown me out of the building, with a stack of work that needed doing over the weekend. And collapsed into a chair for a ten minute breather. Although I needed to be careful or I knew I'd doze off, I'd been doing that a lot recently and wasting badly needed work time. There was a message from Jon flashing on the answerphone and another from my brother, but I didn't have the energy to answer either. I didn't have the energy for anything. Then someone pushed the doorbell and with a real effort I got to my feet and went to open the door.
I was not expecting my dad to be standing on the doorstep.
We're the same height now, but he's still broader than me at the shoulders and chest, and there's no trace of grey in his hair either. His blue eyes crackled at me in a grin at my surprise and I responded automatically to his outstretched hand, gripping it hard.
"Dad! What are you doing here? What's wrong-" I added sharply, my heart starting to thump. Dad shook his head, following me inside the flat.
"Nothing, everyone's fine son. I came up to see your grandparents this morning and I thought I'd drive the extra distance and see you. We haven't heard much from you the last few weeks."
He said it lightly but I heard the hint. He shouldered out of his jacket and I went into the kitchen, calling back to him, "Want a coffee?"
"Sounds great." Dad said easily. "Your grandparents are fine. So's your mum, she's enjoying her new job."
"Good. I sent her a card-"
"Yes, she got it. She was pleased with that. I think she'd like a phone call occasionally though."
I carried two mugs back and handed him one. He was standing by the window and he gave me a sharp look as I reached him, putting a hand out and under my chin.
"You look tired."
"Working hard at the moment." I handed him a mug and sank down into an armchair. "Not enough hours in the day- usual problem."
"I thought you were enjoying your work." Dad perched on the arm of the sofa, not settling. I didn't quite like the expression on his face.
"I am, it's interesting. Just busy at the moment."
"What time are you getting home in the evenings?"
I shrugged, gulping coffee. "Eight. Nine. Not too bad."
"This place looks barely lived in."
"I like it tidy."
My dad gave me an expressive raise of the eyebrows. "David, no one is this tidy. Are you getting some nights out? Seen Jon recently?"
He and my mother liked Jon, were used to him spending a lot of time at the house when I was there and thoroughly approved of him. I'd heard my mother telling people that he was 'good for me'.
"Sometimes." I said evasively.
"When?" dad said bluntly. I looked up at him, startled.
"Weekends mostly- the usual-"
"When was the last time?" Dad interrupted. I frowned, trying to think back.
"Um. Last weekend? That concert?"
"Jon said you cancelled." Dad pointed out. "He came over yesterday and had a little chat with me."
I swallowed, not happy. We'd had one or two barneys on the phone recently, him saying I was working too much, too hard, not thinking things through. Clearly he'd felt the next step was to go right to my dad and tattle, knowing full well my dad was NOT a man to let trouble boil away undealt with.
Jon was dead. Jon was sooooooooooooooooo dead.
Dad, oblivious to the total s*** he'd just dropped Jon in, carried on.
"He said you haven't seen him in near three weeks, you're not answering calls and you're not seeing anything of your other friends at all."
I gave him another still less certain shrug, with the nasty feeling of a trap clicking shut around me.
"I forget. It's been busy."
"Hmm." Dad took a mouthful of coffee. And promptly winced, choking. "David this milk is sour!"
"Is it?" I looked down at my coffee in surprise. Dad pulled the cup out of my hand.
"It's virtually yoghurt! Don't tell me you didn't notice!"
I hadn't, I'd drunk a good third of it. Dad strode into the kitchen and poured both cups down the sink before he opened the fridge.
"Allright. What exactly are you eating?"
I didn't have an answer to that. Dad opened the milk, sniffed it and winced.
"There's cheese in here growing mould, chicken about two weeks out of date and that's pretty much ALL- what did you have for dinner?"
"I haven't got around to it yet-" I admitted. He shut the fridge and the look I was getting I now knew I really didn't like. I recognised it. I'd seen it at the age of seven when I broke the kitchen window. And again at thirteen when I resigned from the swim team without telling him, because I was panicking about homework. And at nine when I-
"What was breakfast?"
I blinked, knowing that tone too. My stomach was starting to twist. "Coffee-"
"With sour milk." Dad finished for me. "What was dinner last night?"
"I had lunch at the office-" I said, struggling to remember. I'd eaten something at the office yesterday, I had a vague memory of something sweet. "A donut I think-"
"And what time did you get home last night?" Dad said still more bluntly, folding his arms and leaning back against the counter.
I flushed. He taught me very young about lying to him, no one in my family would have done it lightly. And I doubt they'd have got away with it if they'd tried, he knew us all inside out.
"Just after midnight."
"And what time tonight?"
"About half an hour ago." I admitted. "I had a stack of work to finish, I wanted it done before Monday-"
"And how much did you bring home?" Dad interrupted. I looked awkwardly at the stack of files on the table.
"A few hours worth?"
"I see." He straightened up, dropping a heavy hand on my shoulder and steering me ahead of him into the living room. "So you're not eating right. You're not getting anything LIKE enough sleep. You're not seeing any of your friends or going out in the evenings. And you're clearly working every hour you're not sleeping. How old are you David?"
"Dad- you know very -"
He turned me around to face him and planted his hands on his hips, glaring at me. I swallowed, feeling about eight.
"That's old enough to look after yourself isn't it?" Dad said grimly. "Something you're obviously NOT doing."
"It's just a bad time at work," I said awkwardly, "It's only a few weeks-"
It never worked. Since I was four, the first time he and I really clashed over whether or not I could go out of the front gate alone, I've never succeeded in arguing with him. He was already shaking his head.
"What are you going to do if you make yourself ill? Hm? Who's here to look after you if you don't?"
"I'm not going to get ill just from-"
"You're well on your way!" Dad exploded. "When you have a kid David, you spend YEARS preparing them to live independently of you. You train them to keep themselves well, healthy and safe, and by the time you're finished if you're any kind of a parent, you have a child who's able to take care of themselves and lead a successful and happy life. That's probably the most important thing to your mother and me. You WERE raised to take care of yourself, you know well how to do it, how do you think it feels for me to be a hundred miles from you and worrying about whether or not you're ill and alone? Whether you'll remember to feed yourself? Whether you'll sleep enough?"
"Work has to come first," I protested, "It's not like I can say I can't do it-"
"That's absolutely what you DO do!" Dad said sharply. "You do what you can David, and beyond that you say NO. And if that's not accepted then you tell them where to stick it and you look for another job, a kid your age does not need to work himself sick. You're too young for an ulcer, work without friends or enjoyment doesn't make for any kind of life. You were raised to be responsible, about yourself and your own needs as well as everyone else's."
"I try to!" I said plaintively. Dad shook his head.
"How? You're not making any time to take care of yourself, you're not even doing the most BASIC things like checking for out of date food! If you DO remember to eat you'll poison yourself!"
With that glare on me and under that lecture I was out of things to say. Dad shook his head at me, with the sorry but grim look I unfortunately knew very well.
"We trust you to do a much better job than this David, you know it and you've let us down."
I was already sweating. I'd heard that phrase before, and I was fully expecting it, ridiculous as it was, when his hand closed on my arm and towed me with him to the sofa. Still more ridiculous, I found myself going with him without more than a whine.
"Dad you can't- "
"I'll think you find I can." Dad said grimly, taking a seat. "Drop them my son."
We'd had the same conversation before. Many times. My brothers and myself had all been raised with attention, a lot of affection and the sure knowledge that misbehaving would lead to a sound spanking, whether we were six or sixteen. Even at eighteen and nineteen we'd believed implicitly that if we crossed the very clear lines in our house he wouldn't hesitate to turn us across his knee. I found that still believed it now and it didn't occur to me to resist. Fidgeting, I was nevertheless unbuttoning my cords. He sat waiting as he always had, his hands resting palms down on his spread knees, watching as I fumbled. As a kid I would have been sniffling in anticipation by this point, knowing very well what to expect. As it was my stomach was clenched and my mouth was dry as I let my trousers go and they slipped to my knees. And still more slowly eased the waistband of my briefs south, over the curve of my already tingling backside and down my thighs. Dad took my arm as soon as I was done, tugging firmly enough to tip me off balance and over his legs. I was as tall as he was now, not that that gave him any trouble, he'd raised three teenaged sons: I found myself quickly with my face buried in the sofa cushions and my toes against the carpet, already bracing nervously. Dad pulled my shirt up without delicacy and ran a warm and calloused hand over my bare backside.
"You're as skinny as God only knows what, this has been going on for weeks, hasn't it?"
I didn't answer, since my teeth were already against my wrist, my breath was catching in my chest and my entire attention was riveted on my bare and upturned tail and his hand. A sound swat across one cheek made me jerk in shock, snapping my head up. His hand was heavy and hard and he was an expert at this, that one swat stung like hell.
"YES. Yes, I'm sorry-"
His arm held me closely against his body and his voice above me was grim and very determined. If I'd had any doubt before, I knew now I was REALLY in for it.
"This is NOT going to happen again David. You are going to straighten this out, and I'm going to make very sure that this time things STAY straightened out."
There was no answer to that and he didn't expect one: he just lifted his hand and I shut my eyes, clenching them and my butt tightly as he began to spank. He never messed around my dad, he had a powerful right arm and an effective snap to his wrist and a swat from him, trust me, it hurt. And he believed in a slow, methodical approach that covered every inch of your behind with those blazing, heavy whacks from his palm, and then re covered and re covered it until your butt was one solid and dark red and sitting was painful for a good twenty four hours after. I lay where I was, pinned down over my father's knees and jumped and twisted and yelped without dignity, nothing at all on my mind except the steady whack whack whack of his hand behind me and the blazing pain being lit across my bottom. Even at this age, being spanked made me piteously sorry, emotionally as well as physically- I'd never in my life doubted that my dad loved me. He never spanked any of us unless we seriously deserved it, and when he did it was with real effort and commitment. You really knew you'd disappointed him if he turned you over his knee. And he didn't let up either- within two minutes I was twisting and kicking, gasping and yelping, rapidly getting to the end of my endurance and I knew he was far from done. A spanking as far as my dad was concerned, ended only when he was sure he'd made a serious impression, and that meant when you were in tears.
It was around the three minute mark that tears started to flow, and the tiredness and misery swept over my head. I collapsed into the sofa cushions and sobbed like I always had as a child in this position. Dad continued for a moment more, he knew my butt well and he made very sure he covered all the ground- then finally he stopped and I felt instead the weight of his hand between my shoulders, rubbing in a heavy, comforting circle. I just lay there and cried like a kid. Finally when I didn't move he pulled me up, lifting me down to my knees on the floor and I struggled to haul my briefs back into position. My backside burned and stung like all the fires of hell, and rubbing was no help whatever. Dad helped me to my feet and then pulled me down on the sofa beside me, wrapping his arm around my shoulders.
He'd always believed in this too- that as soon as he was done, the punishment was over, the slate was cleared between us and that it had been done out of love. A spanked kid of his was a kid seriously upset and in need of comforting, and his sympathy was genuine: he was never sorry for spanking you, but he was always sorry that it had been necessary. Age made no difference, I admit at that point I didn't feel even close to twenty six. I put my head down on his shoulder as I had all my life when things went wrong, and frankly I howled. He didn't say anything either. Just sat with that arm firmly around me and his chin against the top of my head, and let me get on with it.
My head was thumping and my eyes felt swollen when I finally stopped, and he bent his head, dropping a brief and hard kiss on my forehead.
"Get what you need for the weekend Davy."
I knew what that meant and I was already moving to obey even as I opened my mouth to argue.
"I can't, I've got all -"
He didn't say a word, just landed another sharp swat across the seat of my pants and gave me a meaningful look. That was enough of a hint. I grabbed a bag from the wardrobe and stuffed the essentials of life into it, aware of him in the bathroom picking up what I'd need.
"You can leave the car here, I'll bring you back on Sunday night."
"It's over a hundred miles." I said feebly. Dad didn't look round.
"I'll stay the night here with you on Sunday and drive back Monday morning. Got everything? Come on then."
He herded me out ahead of him and locked the flat door behind me, and as we headed out across the carpark he dropped an arm across my shoulders, an absent and familiar caress on his part- he swore born of the days when my brothers and I were of a good height to lean on as he walked.
My mom fussed over me like he'd brought me home with galloping consumption: if she guessed what happened between me and dad she didn't comment on it. They fed me and my dad sent me straight up to bed as soon as I was done, by which time I was pretty much asleep on my feet. Saturday he kept me busy and around him for most of the time: the cars were washed, the lawns mowed, the drive weeded, the gutters cleared, all physical work that left me starving hungry and physically tired out, and he sent me to bed at an hour I would have objected to as ridiculous for a grown man if I hadn' t been exhausted. Sunday, they let me sleep and I didn't make it downstairs until nearly eleven am. To find Jon sitting downstairs, waiting for me.
"Do you have any idea what your 'little chat' with dad got me into?" I demanded when we wandered together out into the freshly mowed garden and sprawled on the grass in the shade together. He looked great. In fact I'd forgotten just how great he always DID look, and how badly I missed him when I was away. He was a gorgeous guy. Not just physically either.
"I tried everything else I could think of," Jon said grinning. I pulled a face at him and he rolled over beside me on the grass, swatting my rump through my cotton shorts.
"Maybe I should have tried it for myself."
"Dad told you?" I said in outrage. Jon laughed.
"He said you were for it if things were as bad as I thought they were. And I had a fair idea of what that meant."
"Thanks a bunch."
He touched my face, running a finger back through my hair.
"Hey, you weren't listening to me and I was getting worried- it just looked to me like you really needed your dad."
That, I admit, stopped me complaining, although I was not quite willing to admit that yes, I did, and yes, I was glad that he'd tattled. Jon read my face as he always did, I could see what I was thinking reflect straight back at me from his eyes.
"He said to me you were always a good kid. Way TOO good. And that you sometimes needed a firm hand."
That sounded like something my dad would say.
"Besides, it got you home didn't it?" Jon winked at me and I leaned over to kiss him.
"I suppose that has its plusses."
In the long term it did. Dad drove me back to the flat on Sunday night, spent the night there and left Monday morning with serious threats as to what would happen if the fridge wasn't stocked and I looked tired or overworked when he came back on Friday. And when he came back on Friday, Jon came with him with a suitcase and although it wasn't exactly planned, he never actually went home again.
I think too that either he'd talked to my dad and asked for advice, or else my dad gave him a little fatherly chat, because he'd picked up more than a few hints. It took very little time before he convinced me that not every 'i' had to be dotted and every 't' had to be crossed, and that work was not the only important thing in life. About a year later we moved back to our home town and found work there, which delighted both his parents and mine. There wasn't exactly confetti involved but we're thinking about the white picket fence. And while he still occasionally threatens to turn me in to my dad when I get too fixated on things being JUST so, he largely has things handled himself.
Like I said- and like my dad- Jon's a pretty great guy.