I am in a privileged position. When I was a child, my parents didn’t call me “it”, nor did they lock me in a cupboard for 18 hours a day or feed me a diet of dog biscuits and cheese and onion crisps. They actually seemed to like me, even when I was a little git, and even encouraged me to have my own opinions. How silly of them, especially when you look at what I have become; an opinionated writer.
In any case, I’m father to an eight-year-old boy. I want him to have experiences and opportunities that he wants. The traditional expression, of course, is “experiences that I never had”, but I don’t agree; he might not want those experiences, because it might not interest him.
It is, however, a big responsibility; to help him discover what he wants to be in his life. Of course, it’s rare for any eight-year-old to know precisely what he wants to do for longer than five minutes, let alone five decades of their career. It’s not always the case, I concede – my cousin’s similarly-aged son has been determined to be a RAF pilot for as long as I can remember – but is the norm.
I want my son to look back on his childhood with fondness, knowing that he had had the opportunity to explore a hundred and one different things. From that, he will had dropped ninety-nine and picked up seven more; only one or two might last through into his teenage years and adulthood, if we’re lucky, but the experiences will hopefully make him a more interesting person and also teach him valuable life lessons.
When he first moved in with me and realised that the books I’d been talking about actually had been published and read by people other than in my immediate family, he decided that he wanted to be a writer. Lovely; of course, I welcomed that, and was utterly delighted to read his first two stories that now proudly adorn his bedroom walls.
But, of course, that didn’t last forever; a couple of months in, he decided that he wanted to be a dancer. A while after that, he wanted to be a sportsman. And then a chef. All very sensible choices for a boy who can’t sit still for very long. But would any of them stick? I was open to any possibility.
His school run a series of after-school clubs, many of which are geared towards his age range. I suspect that, if I let him, he’d attend a club every day – and it would certainly be no financial hardship, as they are all free.
But I’ve asked my son to focus each term on the ones he likes the most. The argument, “But I like them all equally, Dad,” doesn’t wash with me; I want him to really dig beneath the surface of a couple of clubs and really give it his complete attention. If he finds that they’re not for him, then fine – change. But not after one week; I want him to give it a bit of time, to see what suits his personality.
He is also a natural-born swimmer and dancer – I admire and envy his natural fluidity of movement. In that regard, he and I couldn’t be more different; his natural ability to move confidently through his space is brilliant, and I want to encourage that as much as possible; he seems eager to try thing that enable him to keep moving, and he certainly struggles to stay still for any length of time. I am oddly the opposite; being a writer, it’s a good thing that I’m entirely comfortable sitting still for a long period of time, otherwise I couldn’t get a lot of work done.
Who knows where my son will end up in the future. He might be a dancer, a maths teacher, or a sportsman of some kind. Whatever he decides to be, it won’t be because I’m not encouraging him to learn and do his best.