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We have to talk

Rick Ryckeley's picture

Want to really get your kids’ attention this summer? Walk up to them and say, “We have to talk.” Add a “young man” or “young lady” before or after that phrase and watch them cringe with fear.

Throughout life, no matter who says it, “We have to talk” is never good to hear. My first encounter with those words was a long, long time ago, on a familiar street, not so far away.

When the police knock on your front door well after sundown, it’s usually not for a social visit. This was especially true if you lived at 110 Flamingo Street and had five kids, four of which are boys under the age of 12.

After a long discussion with the nice officer, Dad closed the door and yelled down the hallway, “Boys! We have to talk.” He ordered all of us to sit at the kitchen table. It seems the police (and Dad) wanted to know just who threw a water balloon at the police car.

To be completely honest, I didn’t actually throw a water balloon at a police car. I threw it at Down The Street Bully Brad. Just so happened that the police car drove by at the wrong time and got in the way.

That night I learned that even though honesty is the best policy, that policy comes at a price. It won’t keep you from having to pick out your own switch down by the swamp and getting a sore reminder why it’s not a good idea to sneak out at night to wage secret water balloon wars with the bully down the street.

We have to talk. School is another place you don’t want to hear that phrase. Old Mrs. Crabtree was my third-grade teacher at Mt. Olive Elementary School and, it seemed, an expert about talking and asking questions.

Almost every day, Mrs. Crabtree wanted to talk about something. Why would anyone throw spitballs in her class while her back was turned? Why did she always have to repeat herself? Why couldn’t we sit still? Why didn’t we do our homework? Or her favorite – Why in heaven’s name?

Even at Briarwood High School, Home of the Mighty Buccaneers, those words, “We have to talk,” followed me.

After handing back mid-term papers, Mrs. Newsome, my 11th-grade English teacher told me to stay after school. She said, “We have to talk.”

That was bad enough, but when she added, “about your grades,” things got a whole lot worse. Seems there was a lot of room for improvement. Once home, my explanation to Dad that at least a D wasn’t an F didn’t go over as well as I expected. That’s when he too said, “We need to talk.” Except it was a much louder talk than the one with Mrs. Newsome.

When one is out of school and into the workforce, “We have to talk” takes on a whole new meaning, especially when it’s followed by “… in my office.”

I’ve been working for over 40 years and, trust me, such an invitation has never turned out well. Especially if you walk into the office and the boss says, “Close the door and have a seat.”

Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say something about that phrase as it relates to relationships. Whether spoken by male or female, the “We have to talk” talk is almost always followed by pleading, lots of crying, a sincere promise to do better, phone calls, letters, and (in extreme cases) a dozen roses. Not that I’m admitting anything, mind you.

Looking back through my dating years, I now understand what the, “We have to talk,” talk really means. It means the Neanderthal here hasn’t listened. For after all, if I were listening in the first place, we wouldn’t have to talk.

[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, served as a firefighter for more than two decades and has been a weekly columnist since 2001. His email is His books are available at]

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