Illustration by Mr Seth Armstrong

EPISODE 32: MY FRIEND FANCY

Most people divide the world into good and evil. My children, however, divide it into fancy and un-fancy. When my four-year-old daughter Alexandra is asked to practise her counting, she will say, "One-two-three-four-five... and when you're five, you get an iPad". Nicholas, age eight, is on the fast track to become a Swiss banker. A year ago, he would spend quiet moments in his room eagerly memorising all 44 US presidents in order. This year his letter to Santa Claus included requests for 44 different types of rare coins. One morning while I was cooking him some pancakes and sausage, he looked up from the newspaper and asked me, "Dad, what do you think: gold or platinum? Which is a better investment?"

I spent a good portion of the past year trying to beat back the forces of consumerism, then over one long winter weekend I had an epiphany: their love of the fancy was not my enemy; it was my friend. Over breakfast, I tried using current events as a deft segue-way into talking about helping others who are less fortunate than ourselves. "A friend of Daddy's from the office is volunteering in the Philippines, helping to rebuild the country after Typhoon Haiyan. I think that is pretty cool."

My most potent disciplinary tool was not the threat of corporal punishment but the promise of doing something fancy

Nicholas and Alexandra would have none of it. "Do you know what, Dad? You're a poo-poo platter," said Alexandra, displaying what her nursery school teacher euphemistically referred to as her "spicy side". High hilarity ensued as she and her brother burst out laughing. My daughter has already figured out that likening me to an appetiser in a Chinese restaurant - albeit one with scatological overtones - is in this weird no-man's-land between punishable speech and Cheeky Town, a place where my daughter keeps a pied-à-terre.

"I am not a poo-poo platter," I responded indignantly. This only made my children laugh more.

As the coup de grâce, Alexandra looked at her brother and then at me, and then she just said the word, "Fart". Thunderous guffaws all around - except for me.

My wife, Honor, had left the day before for a photoshoot in Miami. I was only 12 hours into my solo-parenting ultra-marathon. My actions over the next few minutes would determine the course of the next 48 hours: I could be the all-powerful lord of my 1,800sqft kingdom or become the deposed Prince of Poo-Poo. My children could not be allowed to smell my fear. My most potent disciplinary tool was not the threat of corporal punishment but the promise of doing something fancy. "It is 7am on a Saturday morning. If you two kids don't piss me off (and do everything I say for the rest of the weekend), then we can go out to a restaurant for dinner."

Nicholas appeared in a blue velvet blazer and chambray shirt. 'Why the chambray?' I asked. 'Because of my love of Santa Fe'

"A fancy restaurant?" asked Nicholas. He and his sister's eyes met the way members of the same gang do right before they reach for their guns. The word "fancy" hung in the air, glittering.

"A fancy restaurant?" she repeated the question. At this point I would have gladly treated them to the Four Seasons if they would agree to obey me until Monday morning.

"Yes, a fancy restaurant," I said.

"Can we pick which one?" asked Nicholas and then spat out the name of this disgusting chain restaurant, a kind of poor man's TGIF. Alexandra joined in the chant as it went from quiet to loud, "Uno... UNO... UNO!"

"No, Nicholas, don't overplay your hand. Because I'm all that stands between you and some microwaved shepherd's pie."

"Sorry, Dad." The chant of "Uno-Uno-Uno" then magically transformed into one of "Daddy's-the-best, Daddy's-the-best". The remainder of the day went smoother, and the planning of our evening wear was an hour-killing distraction. Alexandra demanded that I act as her lady's maid - pulling different dresses down from the wardrobe for her to try on. She finally settled on a red velvet jumper and a white shirt with a Peter Pan collar. Moments later Nicholas appeared in a blue velvet blazer, which he dressed down with a chambray shirt. The overall effect was very Tom Ford.

"Why the chambray? That's kind of a rough material, and the velvet is posh?"

"Because of my love of Santa Fe," he informed me. (He has visited New Mexico once.) I quickly threw on a grey flannel blazer and my vintage adidas Gazelles. We were only going to our local casual Italian, where we had a couple of pastas and a lovely bottle of Barolo. (Me, not them.) As we walked home in the dark down Fifth Avenue through the winter wind's wild lament, I held the hand of a little girl in a hot pink car coat and a boy in a navy blue duffle coat. "Why do you like the fancy so much?" I asked them. And then the little girl, who began her day by calling her father a poo-poo platter, walked a few steps ahead of Nicholas and me.

"Because fancy is like a fashion show," she said, "And I love fashion." She did a little pirouette and then resumed holding my hand.

To read Mr Brodie's previous columns, click here. Follow Mr Brodie on Twitter @jbrodieny

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