"We've voted to audit you, Daddy," my daughter announced one recent Saturday morning over breakfast.
"Really?" I answered absently.
"You've overstated your earnings three quarters in a row," said Caroline, a fourth-grader and regular CNBC viewer.
"In looking at recent expenditures, we've noticed some disturbing irregularities," added my son, Michael, a seventh-grader who prefers to scour the stock market tables in the newspaper. "To wit, those cases of Lafitte Rothschild 1952 in the garage -- financed, apparently, by our 529 accounts."
"The upshot is, you're cutting corners, Daddy," Caroline said. "Shareholder confidence is dropping fast. Your corporate reputation is running on fumes."
"Yeah," Michael said, "We're really concerned about the outlook for Q2."
"Okay, kids," I said. "Look, I may have committed a few indiscretions here and there. Maybe I invested a bit too much capital in extending the backyard deck into the next county. But . . . "
"Actually, Daddy," Caroline said prosecutorially, "the abuses appear to be systemic."
"Are you saying what I think you're saying?" I asked, now dimly aware that my authority as the family chairman and chief executive officer was under attack.
"Yes. We suspect you're cooking the books, Daddy," Caroline said. "And it's our job as senior management, before worse comes to worst, to blow the whistle."
"Just remember, Dad," Michael added. "In life, you have addition and subtraction. All the rest is just conversation."
"Listen, I'm no accountant," I said. "You should go talk to Mom."
"But Mom told us to ask you," Michael said.
"No," I said, "she's the CFO. She cuts all the checks."
"But you told us the buck stops with you, Daddy," Caroline said.
"No, pumpkin," I said. "Daddy was just being figurative there."
"But the aw-shucks defense has already failed to pass muster in courtrooms nationwide," Michael pointed out. Could this be? I wondered, breaking into a cold sweat and hyperventilating. Could my kids muster enough votes on the family board of directors to engineer my ouster from the organization?
I needed time to think. I retreated to my home office, where my wife found me. She must have read the look on my face. "Believe me, dear, nobody ever wanted it to come to this," she said with a forgiving smile. "Now, please stop shredding those documents and come finish your eggs before they get cold."
I should have seen this coming. Of late, fathers have gotten embroiled in household accounting scandals involving everything from sham subsidiaries to offshore accounts. In Fairfield, Conn., a 12-year-old girl reported that her father, an otherwise loving senior vice president in marketing, had siphoned her earnings from Girl Scout cookies into buying a DVD player for his lawn mower. Indeed, a study found that since 2002, fiscal fraud perpetrated by fathers against families has risen an alarming 27 percent. The species of father we might term the Imperial Dad, so long flying high, had fallen prey to hubris.
In the aftermath of that traumatic Saturday morning, my family placed me on probation pending further investigation. Caroline formed an audit committee to impose internal controls. Michael urged me to retain an attorney in case the family opted to file a class-action suit against me. My wife warned me she'd invited Eliot Spitzer to step in ("Just to have a look around," she said).
In the wake of this mutiny, my family implemented certain procedures for me to follow. I'm now required to bring home notarized receipts for everything, including coffee and handouts to panhandlers. On advice of counsel, I decline to make any comment in conversation at home that could be interpreted as an untrue statement or material omission because anything I say to family can and will be used against me.
The crackdown on the Imperial Dad is bound to widen. It's probably only a matter of time before more children take allegations of fatherly fraud to the Justice Department and seek protection under the Juvenile Whistleblower Act. Autocratic fathers taking out the garbage will be surrounded by SWAT teams, led off in handcuffs and taken downtown for perp walks. Congressional hearings may look into whether the American father is any longer fit to govern. A special regulatory agency may be created to issue stricter Dad Guidelines.
The Imperial Dad will ultimately devolve into the Janitorial Dad. The Janitorial Dad will sign and certify any and all financial statements, and switch to taking public transportation to work. He will spend much more time reporting on his activities than actually engaging in any. He will, in effect, do windows.
Meantime, here's some guidance for fathers. Act humble around your family, even if you're faking it. Defer to your wife and children on all major business decisions, even if inconvenient. Above all, bide your time until the marketplace swings the pendulum back in your direction.
Author's e-mail: Bobbrody@hotmail.com
Bob Brody is a New York City public relations executive and essayist. His wife and children regard him largely as a vendor.