Before you're old enough to answer
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
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
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
you'll almost have grown fond of the old fool.
So before this tiny window of
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
It was much simpler once.
Dads went out to work,
while mums stayed home and looked after
There was a canny granny
who knew a thing or two about colic
and could wield a nappy pin without malicious
Now mum's fulfilled by holding down a
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
Help, though, is at hand.
For godparents we have Mothercare
and the Early Learning Centre,
and lots of good advice
from educationalists, psychologists,
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
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
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
or set your heart on crossing the Gobi Desert
on a camel,
or even become an accountant,
It isn’t who you are that gets you
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
with keeping a sense of proportion.
And in philosophy you hold the
that questions may somewhere have answers.
All in all you will be quite
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.
For the dedication of Adam Ryder Rust.
© Godfrey Rust 1993, email@example.com. See here for permissions.