Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, But…

We know that all Canadians except Alanis Morissette understand irony, and Americans don’t. It’s received wisdom, so I didn’t need to belabour the point the day in 1964 when my father the librarian hit me from behind and on the head with The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. “Shorter” is a relative term, of course. This baby ran to 2500-plus pages and weighed about 10 pounds: 10 pounds that felt like a ton when they were unexpectedly rearranging my brains. So first came the shock, then the onset of the pain and the tears, and then the moment of clarity when I chose not to suggest, “with all due respect”, that a career librarian whacking his kid with the SOED, while not a very Canadian thing to do, was undeniably and deliciously ironic. I also wisely refrained from asking if he was just trying to knock some sense into me.

I think that was the first time he ever really hit me, and he only did it twice more during my adolescence, which I guess began that day. Three times in six or seven years was not bad going in an era when father-son violence carried little or no stigma. And I was never injured, though it has been suggested that permanent brain damage was inflicted on me that day. And worse, by a librarian, the Oxford University Press, and the entire English language, albeit in a shortened form.

I don’t know how I was supposed to have provoked the dictionary-bashing. I do know that just weeks later I probably deserved another when I was caught shoplifting a copy of Do Wah Diddy Diddy. Instead, on the chilly drive home after my dad had frog-marched me out of the store-dick’s interrogation room, I noticed that I was still clutching that precious 45 in my sweaty little hand! I deftly slipped it under my parka and thought to myself, “Isn’t it ironic?”

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