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The beating started at dawn.  Neanderdad was sleeping in bed.  All was at peace.  Then the boy came in and started thumping his rubbery fist against Neanderdad’s slumbering skull.  At first the thumps weren’t hard enough to hurt.  However, they did interrupt a glorious dream in which Neanderdad had been driving hundreds of long-nosed mammoths off a cliff and onto a giant, valley-sized dinner plate.   His entire tribe had been cheering him and banging drums.  These drums began to match the rhythm of the boy’s fist as it pounded Neanderdad toward consciousness.  When the boy spoke, Neanderdad’s happy dream evaporated into a hard reality.  

“Dad?  Dad?  Daddy?  Dad!?!” the boy said, accenting each word with another thump on Neanderdad’s skull

“Sleep.” murmured Neanderdad, pulling the pillow over his head for protection.

“Daddy, get up!” said the boy, pulling at the pillow to give him a clearer shot.

“Sleep!” growled Neanderdad, hoping to chase the boy off.

Neanderdad had almost succeeded in shielding himself from the boy when the girl joined in.

“Daddy, we said get up!”  She declared.  Then she hopped up onto the bed, bounced off the mattress with a joyful screech, flew high into the air and landed knee-first onto Neanderdad’s lower back.  Neanderdad roared out in agony.  He reflexively curled up with such violence that he nearly launched the girl off the bed.  She just laughed, thinking it was all good fun.  Then she and the boy continued to hit and slap their father, demanding that he arise.

“Get up!” the boy said, still going for the head.

“Get out of bed, Daddy” demanded the girl, targeting the stomach.

When their father still didn’t comply, his pint-size assailants denuded Neanderdad of his blankets and pillows.  With nothing to protect him, Neanderdad surrendered and sat up.

“Up.” he acknowledged, scratching at his shaggy head.

“Get out of bed, Dad.” The boy jeered.

“We want pancakes.”   The girl demanded.  So Neanderdad dragged himself out of bed.

Neanderdad’s mate ran errands on Saturday mornings, leaving  Neanderdad the Bruised to act as guardian and short order chef for the children.  The breakfast that ensued was messy and chaotic and loud, but thankfully, non-violent.  However, when the dishes were cleared and the counters wiped, the savage nature of his offspring revealed itself anew.  It came clothed in an innocuous invitation.

“Come play with us, Daddy,” beckoned the boy with saccharin sweetness.

“Yeah, daddy.  Come play.”  The girl echoed, her lips curling up in the hint of a smile.

It would be nice to play with the kids, Neanderdad thought.    They were growing up so fast.  They wouldn’t want to play with him for much longer.   So, yes, he decided, he did want to play with them.  He grinned sentimentally into his offsprings’ glinting eyes and sharp white teeth.  Then he went off obliviously to the slaughter.

The game was nominally called football but real football is a rule-based game in which grown men covered in pads throw and run and catch and tackle.  The game Neanderdad’s children intended to play was a bloodsport wherein two manic primates leap upon their progenitor and intentionally (and mercilessly) pound on him.

“Get him,” was the first thing the girl said after Neanderdad caught the kickoff.  And get him they did.

As Neanderdad tried to matriculate toward the end zone, which was demarcated by a dog-chewed frisbee and a plastic lizard-man action figure, the boy started slugging Neanderdad in the gut.    The girl bit his arm in an attempt to cause a fumble.  When Neanderdad fell to the ground and declared the play over, hoping for a cessation of hostilities, his children continued to claw for the ball, pull his hair and dig elbows into his ribs.

“No fair,” they cried when Neanderdad finally flagged them for an unsportsmanlike penalty and moved the ball forward on the carpet by fifteen lengths of a Lego.  When Neanderdad hiked the ball and tried to move forward again, the children came after him again, even more aggressively.  Neanderdad ultimately fumbled on purpose just to get them off of him.

The greatest irony of this game was that the brutes that attacked their father with such abandon were, nonetheless, incredibly sensitive about their own physical welfare.  When the boy accidentally bonked his head on Neanderdad’s knee while trying to twist his father’s foot off, the boy screamed and cried.  The girl wailed and sobbed when she got rug burn on her knee while yanking at her father’s ear to keep Neanderdad from scoring a touchdown.  Both children openly chided Neanderdad for not playing gently enough.  But when he had the ball, they instantly attacked him like hyenas on a baby antelope.    A bruised and battered Neanderdad thanked the heavens (and Keebler) for the midmorning snack-break that brought an end to their game.

“That was fun,” the boy said innocently, while munching a cracker.

“I like playing football with you, Dad,”  said the girl, touching his arm.

“Fun,” responded Neanderdad.  Then he started to look for the aspirin.

After the snack, Neanderdad transitioned his two assassins to soccer.   He thought it clever to switch to this more peaceful sport, but he simply earned himself two battered shins for his trouble.  Then the children got bored of soccer and Neanderdad’s son proposed wrestling.  This proved to be more WWF than greco-roman.  The boy even tried to bring a plastic hockey stick to bear during one attack.   The girl watched for a while, then jumped in aggressively when Neanderdad was vulnerable, grappling his head and pulling on his hair.  In the end, afraid of what injuries they might inflict if he let them win, Neanderdad found himself wrestling for his life. When he had pinned both offspring and declared victory, he staggered away from them.

“Candyland,” Neanderdad commanded, sensing their desire for revenge for his wrestling victory.  Strangely, the children agreed.  Perhaps, Neanderdad mused, assault was exhausting for the attacker too?  So Neanderdad took down the venerable board game and they played a quiet, meandering round of Candyland until Neanderdad’s wife returned.

“Wow.  I can’t believe how behaved you guys are,” she said, fooled by the Potemkin village of parent/child interaction she was seeing.

“Mommy!” they screamed joyfully.  They left their play pieces abandoned between Peanut Acres and Lollypop Woods to go follower their mother into the kitchen.  Neanderdad summoned the energy to pick up the pieces of the discarded game.  Then the children returned to the playroom door.

“Daddy, can we play baseball with you later?” asked the girl innocently.

“Yeah, it’ll be fun,” said the boy.

Neanderdad nodded to his offspring, unable to deny them.  He smiled wearily at their cherubic faces.  He even winked.  And he barely flinched when he overheard what the children said as they walked away.

“I’ll go get my baseball bat,” said the boy.

“Good idea,” said the girl.