wordsout by Godfrey Rust                                       Welcome To The Real World  18 of 59 →  Occasional pieces for family   HOME   

Dear son

Before you're old enough to answer back, 
I thought I’d better get in the advice 
a parent is supposed to give.

By the time you're five years old,
you'll know your dad is always right.

At eight you'll know your dad’s usually right.

At twelve you'll know your dad is sometimes right.

At sixteen you'll know, 
with devastating certainty, 
your dad was never right about a single thing in his entire life. 
You'll be convinced there was a mix-up at the hospital. 
You couldn't be genetically linked 
to anyone with such appalling dress sense 
and disastrous taste in music.

But that's all right. 
By twenty-five you'll realise 
he wasn't quite as hopeless as you'd thought, 
and by the time you pack him off 
to the Sunnydays Home for the Chronologically Gifted
you'll almost have grown fond of the old fool.

So before this tiny window of opportunity 
slams shut on my fingers, 
here’s something you ought to know.

Parenting’s not easy. 
Even the word sounds like 
it’s on probation from a social worker’s handbook.

It was much simpler once. 
Dads went out to work, 
while mums stayed home and looked after the kids.
There was a canny granny
who knew a thing or two about colic 
and could wield a nappy pin without malicious damage.

Now mum's fulfilled by holding down a job,
and dad's a new man rushing home to change the babygros, 
and both collapse at half past nine each night, 
racked with guilt and haunted by the ghosts of their inadequacy 
because Mum's not Anita Roddick 
and isn't running a small but profitable chain of underwear boutiques, 
and Dad's not Richard Branson 
(and frankly looks awful in those chunky sweaters).

Help, though, is at hand. 
For godparents we have Mothercare 
and the Early Learning Centre, 
and lots of good advice 
from educationalists, psychologists, anthropologists 
and out-of-work sociologists.

All of whom suggest we don't interfere.

Well, I’m going to. 
But the advice I’d like to give 
is not the things at seventeen I swore 
I’d never say to my kids. 
Like Stop making all that noise, 
or Don’t speak until you’re spoken to!

When you’re older you might reflect 
on what would happen if everyone obeyed that last instruction.

That sort of advice is for the benefit of grown-ups 
who’d like to judge you by appearances, 
and want you to stay securely in your cot 
where they can keep a watchful eye on you.

But I’m going to be your role model. 
Tough, I know, but we’ll have to make the best of it. 
I’ll try to show you 
some useful things that I’ve been shown myself.

It isn’t what you do that counts, 
but how you do it. 
So if you really want to dye your eyebrows turquoise,
or set your heart on crossing the Gobi Desert on a camel, 
or even become an accountant, 
that’s ok.

It isn’t who you are that gets you anywhere, 
but who you follow. 
So don’t be too concerned if, 
when your childhood’s done,
your end-of-term report says your achievements are quite limited.

You think two and two can make five.

You suppose the kingdom of heaven 
has a place in geography.

You mistake history for literature 
because In the beginning was the word.

You believe relativity has something to do 
with keeping a sense of proportion.

And in philosophy you hold the eccentric view 
that questions may somewhere have answers.

All in all you will be quite ill-adjusted 
to the expectations of society. 
And if that’s the verdict then, dear son, 
I think that both of us can say
we’ve come through pretty well.


Written for the dedication of Adam Ryder Rust in 1993.

Godfrey Rust, godfrey@wordsout.co.uk. See here for details of permissions for use.