‘How is it possible for anyone to make such a mess opening a box?’ mutters the Nearly-Beloved surveying the ripped and crumpled cardboard from which my breakfast is spilling out all over the table. He, in contrast, pours precise, concentric circles of muesli from a pristine packet into his bowl. I smile sympathetically at my poor perfectionist husband. He is outnumbered. Cue the teenager, who lollops into the kitchen, one eye on his phone. Reaching for his cereal, he shakes an explosion of cornflakes onto the floor. When he’s eaten enough to satisfy his hunger, he crunches the rest nonchalantly underfoot.
‘What?’ asks Grunting Teen in confusion, noticing the apoplectic expression on his father’s face.
‘Why can’t you and your mother do the right thing? You are so alike in your incompet…’ The Nearly Beloved’s voice falters under my steely glare. ‘Just – you are so alike.’
‘Genetics, innit?’ replies our son, unperturbed by the unfavourable comparison. ‘We’re doing it in Psychology. The nature versus nurture debate. You know – whether your physical and personality traits are determined by biological or environmental factors.’
‘You’ve certainly not inherited anything from me,’ snorts his dad, surveying the post-breakfast apocalypse. ‘And, regarding your body’s thermostatic genes, can I remind both you and your mum to put on extra layers. Now that the world is facing a gastastrophe, only Russian oligarchs can afford central heating. So, do the right thing and turn down the temperature.’
I sigh. It’s alright for him with his lack of sensitivity to the cold. What the Nearly-Beloved deems to be an intolerable sauna, is merely an acceptable luke-warmth to us. But he’s right. We do need to watch the fuel bills now. So, that evening, my boy and I huddle together under several blankets to listen to the latest doomsday revelations on the news, whilst Mr Radiator, in his shorts and vest, rolls his eyes at our rough-sleeper look.
‘Can you make us a cup of tea, dad?’ asks Grunting Teen hopefully. The Nearly-Beloved is not impressed. ‘You should be able to do it yourself, at your age,’ he snorts. There’s a look of outrage from the adolescent as he makes excuses for his ineptitude. ‘But you’ve never taught me how to use the kettle. Or light the oven. Or work the microwave. That’s nurture, that is. Or lack of it! I can’t help it if the way you’ve dragged me up sucks.’ And he does have a point. He’s our youngest. We’ve babied him and let him get away with far too much. But at least we’ve nurtured his self-preservation. After all, he might not be able to cook a meal, but he does have Uber-Eats on speed dial.
‘You should count yourself lucky, sonny’ continues the Nearly-Beloved, pointing at the bleak pictures of current events on the TV. And although Grunting Teen doesn’t deny his privileged position, he scowls, and I hear a mumbled ‘Dad’s being proper mean to me’ from under cover of an extra rug.
The next day, however, our son is looking more cheerful. Unlike his father, he has no genetic predisposition towards hoarding possessions. So, when the Nearly-Beloved returns home, he is left speechless to discover half his clothes mountain has been donated to a refugee charity. As he opens his mouth to object, Grunting Teen butts in quickly. ‘Dad, I might not have inherited any personality traits from you. But you’re always telling me to do the right thing. And I have. That’s Nurture triumphing over Nature, innit?’