I had a meeting in town the other day and I walked past a club I used to go to in the Nineties. The memories flooded back, great times with mates getting drunk, dancing, trying to meet girls. It was Nineties and we were young, so yes, we took drugs. I’m not condoning it but we did it and we did it well. There wasn’t much we didn’t try back in the day and we’ve got the stories to prove it.
My mate disappeared one night when we were all in a blissful fog of ecstasy, dancing without a care in the world. And ecstasy was proper back in the day. Pop one at 10pm and be flying until five in the morning. When we emerged from the club into the cool summer sunrise our mate was nowhere to be found. We didn’t care, he could look after himself and he’d probably make his way back some time in the morning. So the four of us meandered our way back to our mate’s house to find somewhere to sleep. We’d have the argument over who got the sofa, someone would take the bath, the rest would crash on the floor.
As we rounded the hedge and opened the gate we saw our mate was asleep on the doorstep, curled up next to what he had curled out. A bright orange turd so big I briefly thought he’d stolen a punctured space hopper. To this day he can’t tell me what he’d eaten or drunk to make it bright orange, or why he decided to take a dump on the doorstep. The front garden was big enough and afforded any number of bushy opportunities to conceal the deed.
It’s a memory familiar to those of us that were young and free in the Nineties. Not the orange turd maybe, but being out with mates, walking home broke and knackered, sleeping on floors.
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Thinking about those days I began to wonder how much my parents knew. Did they have any clue about what I was getting up to? Will I have any clue what my son gets up to? I really enjoyed my youthful indiscretions but as a parent I don’t relish thinking about my child doing the same.
How will I react when my son starts coming home drunk or worse? Will I take the “do as I say not as I did” stance or will I be chilled out about it? After all, I came to no real harm.
The only advice I remember getting from my dad when I started going out was “If you can’t be good, be careful.” In some respect, he couldn’t say much else since my granny had told me he’d once absconded to Belgium for an entire weekend when he was teenager. At the time, I was grateful for the hands-off approach and the freedom it gave me to do what I wanted. Looking back, and particularly as I learn about the responsibilities of fatherhood, I realise that a firmer hand would have helped my education and career prospects no end.
The question of how much to parent is a difficult one. I could lecture my kid on the evils of drink and drugs, set strict rules to keep him safe, and punish him if he breaks them. That way, I might keep him on an academic track that takes him to great heights. I’m sure his mother would sleep better if he’s not out all hours doing Christ knows what.
Conversely, I could tell him my stories. Maybe I could scare him straight with the story of sleeping in a hedge after a night on especially strong cider. Maybe he’d be informed by the time I walked home utterly terrified after smoking weed for six hours and playing Resident Evil with my mates. But maybe he’d think it all sounded like a great laugh and be encouraged to try it.
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There are two problems here. Firstly, I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I firmly believe that I’m a better person, a better writer, and a better dad for having had those experiences. The good times taught me as much about myself as the bad times, and there were plenty of those. On a stag do, I fell down a metal flight of stairs in a club and broke four ribs. I was so drunk and high on cocaine I didn’t realise until I awoke the next afternoon in excruciating pain. I learnt a lot about myself from that incident and none of it was good, but I took the lessons and changed. I don’t want to deny my son those opportunities for fun or personal growth but I don’t want him in harm’s way either.
Secondly, my son is not me. He has a lot of his mother’s traits, which makes him a more sensitive and more intelligent boy than I was. I see such potential in him (well I would, wouldn’t I?) but I worry about his resilience when he’s out in the world. Even when he’s fifteen, taller and broader than me and full of the bravery of youth, he will still be my little boy. Will I be able to see him as a young, capable adult or will I still want to wrap him in cotton wool?
When I talk to my friends who have daughters, I joke that the worrying will be so much worse for them. I tell them I don’t care because I have a boy and he’ll be fine just like I was. That’s bullshit of course. I’m going to spend the next ten years worrying about it. The good thing is I have those ten years to prepare. Maybe I’ll build some sort of Fritzl-style bunker to keep him in. I’ll post books and food through a small hole in the wall and only let him out for Sunday lunch or to play dinosaurs with me. Or maybe I’ll rely on the deeper relationship I have with my boy than I did with my own dad, and hope that we can still talk when he’s a surly teenager.
I’m quite the responsible old man nowadays though so perhaps he won’t believe I could possibly understand the angst of youth or the joys of oblivion on a Friday night. Recent studies suggest there’s a downward trend in the number of young people drinking so maybe it won’t even be an issue. It’s all guesswork at this point, but then isn’t all parenting?