ONE DAY WHEN I was about 8, I underwent some sort of psychotic episode and climbed atop the kitchen table to do a little tap-dancing.
My father, who was perfectly sane at the time, spotted me before too long and went ballistic.
Apparently he had this thing about kids tap-dancing on the kitchen table. You could do a lot of neat things in my house -- my sister once kept a raccoon in the hall closet until she (the raccoon) chewed through part of the door and my mother said that was enough of that nonsense.
But tap-dancing on the kitchen table was out of the question, or so I found out.
"Get down from there!" my father yelled.
"Why?" I replied.
(Even back then I had a clever answer for everything. People talk about Ted Koppel and how quick he is on "Nightline," but Koppel would have looked like the class dunce next to me in my formative years.)
Anyway my old man stared at me up on the kitchen table for about five seconds.
Then in a voice that sounded like the low rumble of thunder he growled: "Because I said so."
Frankly, it didn't sound like much of a reason to get down. In fact, not only didn't I get down, but I quickly launched into a nifty three-step number I had seen Sammy Davis Jr. knock off in a movie.
But then my father took off his belt and started waving it around in the air, and I got the hint. He wasn't taking that belt off to swat at moths.
The point is, that was just one of hundreds of times that my parents asked me to do something, and when I asked them why, they said: "Because I said so."
Oh, I hated to hear that as a kid. Drove me right up a wall.
Why couldn't my parents take the time to give me a straight answer? Or if they didn't want to level with me, why couldn't they at least come up with something creative, something like: "The table is wired with dynamite -- God help us, it's something we never told you!"
Why did it always have to be: "Because I said so?"
Now as a parent myself, I know why.
Let us fast-forward 30 years to the other day when I came home from my grueling job in journalism (you have your own problems) to hear a thumping noise inside the house.
At first it sounded like someone was tap-dancing on the kitchen table. (You ask yourself: Who in their right mind would do such a thing? With these kids today, you never know.)
What it turned out to be, though, was the 8-year-old climbing to the top of the bookcase like it was the north face of the Matterhorn.
From there he was diving onto the couch, doing some kind of forward two-and-a-half from the tuck position, it seemed.
Well, you can do a lot of neat things in my house -- we once spent an evening (after many cocktails) running fly patterns in the family room, Unitas to Berry, with blitzing linebackers and everything.
But diving from a bookcase onto the couch was out of the question. This wasn't the cliffs of Acapulco.
"Get down from there!" I yelled.
"Why?" he said. (It is amazing what a smart aleck this kid can be at times. Lord knows where he gets it from, either.)
With one bold stroke, then, he had lobbed the disciplinary ball onto my court and was waiting to see what I'd do with it.
Now, I could have given a lot of reasons for wanting him down from the bookcase.
I could have said: "Get down from there because you'll get hurt!"
But kids never care about getting hurt. A kid would actually have to see the bone pop through the skin and an ambulance screech to the curb in order to make much of an impression. Even then he'd probably want to ride his bike to the hospital.
Or I could have said: "Get down from there because you're ruining the furniture!"
But kids care even less about ruining the furniture than they do about getting hurt. They're not interior decorators, they're kids. Besides, half the fun of launching yourself onto the couch is to see if you can get the springs to crash through the floorboards -- at least it was in my day.
No, any explanation of why he had to get down would trigger a debate. We could go over the reasons why his behavior was unacceptable later. But first I wanted him down.
So all I said when he asked why was: "Because I said so."
God, it felt great to say that. It really did.