I’m His Father, Not His Friend!

I was reading an article this morning in the UK press about how liberal parenting and a desire of father’s to be their son’s best friend, is harming the development of teenage boys today by effectively transferring authority from the parent to the child, personified by a “Yes, but what am I supposed to do about it” attitude when the child acts up (link enclosed at the end of this piece).

By the time I’d finished reading, I felt like I had just read something I had written myself, and thought that I’d use the piece as a springboard for another story of my life on today’s GenForward Living Legacy Genealogy blog.

I do not want to be my son’s best friend. It’s not my job. My job is to be his father. An appropriate role model, who provides discipline, boundaries, and as he matures, a roadmap for him as to what it means to be a proper man (contrary to what some of the ladies think, it’s not easy being a man!).

This is a role that is essential in their development as they transition from boyhood into becoming a young man. Boys develop differently to girls and have different attitudes toward risk and boundary testing. They NEED an alpha, someone to show them the way.

Unfortunately not all fathers will fit this bill, and even more unfortunately in today’s society, not all fathers are even around for their children. In those cases it’s not uncommon to see boys gravitate towards other role models, perhaps a sports coach or teacher. Either way, it’s an in built evolutionary need that young boys need to have fulfilled, in order to grow into the kind of man that we would all wish our son’s to be.

I can talk from personal experience on the difficulties of a missing father figure. As I have mentioned in earlier articles, in my very early years we were not particularly financially well off. My father had bounced around various jobs (I remember one he had was selling bathrooms as he had a big van that opened up and was full of baths and showers that we used to mess about in). After some time he shifted into the oil business after taking some exams in Great Yarmouth, and went off to work in the North Sea, in the Forties Fields.

This meant that he was working a rota of things like six weeks on six weeks off, so he was away for long periods, and then he would be around again all of a sudden. As his career progressed, he moved out of the North Sea fields and further North East, to the Stavanger fields off Norway. From there, he ended up doing ultrasonic pipe testing in the Middle East.

At this point he was making a bunch of money (we’re talking the oil business in the 70’s), all tax free (in fact it transpired after the fact he was making a chunk more than my mother knew about but that’s another story). Although he was working in places like Abu-Dhabi (we actually went out there one Christmas for a holiday, it was the first of several visits in my lifetime to the Middle East, an area of the world I find interesting and enjoy) and Dubai, where drinking was essentially frowned on, Alcohol was still available.

The guys who worked together in the oil fields had little kind of private drinking clubs that they frequented. My father had a soft spot (and a fairly soft head) for cheap whisky. Needless to say at some point the inevitable happened and he was involved in an incident involving him drunk driving. To this day I’m not certain of the details but I believe he hit someone, or something that came off worse.

As with all of the big oil companies out there, the local royals were heavily involved. It just so happened that one of these guys had a love of all things Scottish, and my father had recently brought him back a “Targe” (round shield) and an axe (he was going to get a Claymore but as they are about 6 feet long we thought that might have been a bit more of an issue on the plane) from our trips to Scotland, so was flavour of the month.

With the local prince exerting his influence, my father managed to stay out of prison, he was however unable to leave the country whilst the legal things rumbled on…………………and on…………….. and on. On in fact, for several years.

By the time all of this was over and he eventually got out of the country a number of years later, with the combination of stress and the separation, too much damage had been done to my parent’s marriage. Shortly afterwards they divorced and he went off to Scotland, with my younger brother in tow.

My mum became an official single parent (as opposed to just doing the job of raising us on her own as had been the case for the previous several years), trying her best to make ends meet (there was never any maintenance money) whilst bringing up a very full of himself young boy, just moving into his teenage years after growing up with an absentee father (albeit that he couldn’t do much about it after the accident).

Needless to say, the whole thing turned into a bit of a train wreck as far as I was concerned. Mother’s efforts to discipline me ran into a bit of a brick wall one day when she hit me across the backside with a spatula in the kitchen. It basically exploded in her hand. I didn’t flinch. The balance of power had moved.

I am not saying that hitting is the only method of discipline, but this was the 70’s, kids got a clip round the ear when they did stuff wrong. My mother was stretched beyond coping with just trying to keep a roof over our heads, and I was like a bull in a china shop. I was also what was referred to then as “a big lad”. Just too much for her to cope with on top of everything else she was dealing with.

Now let’s add into the mix the fact that I had spent a few years at private school. My parents divorce meant not only a move of house, but a move of schools (not only location but school fees were a non starter). I was always one who found it easy to fit in so I took the change of school in my stride socially. The real issue was that due to the time I had spent in private education, I was a good year and more ahead of the curve as far as what was being taught in class.

In those days there were no special classes for special educational needs. No gifted and talented programmes. Nothing for those who really struggled either (my brother discovered much later in life that he had issues with dyslexia, as far as the school system was concerned he was thick and just went in the bottom class).

Now all of these elements start combine with each other to start building the Perfect Storm. We have a smart kid, very full of himself from always being the smartest in class, thinks he knows it all, being reinforced by the fact he’s now sitting through classes he doesn’t even need to try in because he’s done it before, and lacking proper paternal guidance and discipline. You don’t need to be a genius to see where this one goes.

Boredom set in which led to messing about. Messing about led to getting involved with the groups of friends who didn’t take school too seriously. This let to the beginnings of truancy and spending the days parked up round a friend’s house. He was local to the school, and I’m not sure what the story was as far as his parental situation, but the house was always empty so we’d sit there all day smoking and drinking our dinner money, and watching whatever videos we could get our hands on (and this was the early 80’s when you could get your hands on a pirated copy of just about ANYTHING).

By the time final exams roll round, I’m now a professional drop out. I turn up to sit the raft exams we had. It was a swap over year between the old “O” level/CSE exams and the new GCSE. As a result, we sat both “O” level and CSE in most of the subjects, meaning about a dozen exams. Using smarts and the fact I’d done most of the stuff in earlier years I passed everything, but the A grades that should have been, turned into the odd “B” and mostly “C”s.

I went from there to the local “Sixth Form” where I would study for “A” levels, which then fed your Degree at university. Needless to say, as far as I was concerned I’d passed every exam thrown at me, so I had “got away with it”, just serving to reinforce my behavior and attitude. Net result, I approached the A levels the same way. This proved to be a mistake.

My first day contribution to sixth form life was to tear a cupboard door off its hinges, and use the screws and a broken table leg o hammer it onto the wall to serve as a dart board mounting/backboard. I had signed up for two subjects that I had always found dead easy. I think this was the main motivator in my selection process.

The first subject was Computer Science. We spent most of our time building flow charts made up of logic gates, and then BASIC programming on the BBC Microcomputer, because there were no PC’s at that time (certainly not in the Norfolk school system anyway). As is often the case with education, these studies proved to be of practically no use at all in the actual business of I.T. , that was starting to grow out there in the real world. I went to this class most times that it was on, because I quite liked messing about with computers.

The second choice was a combined mathematics course covering pure math, statistics, and advanced geometry. This class I practically never went to, based on the fact I found playing darts in the common rooms much more interesting, and that in all my life I had always just been able to “work out” how to do the math.

All was easy life for the first 6 months till they rolled round with the first set of mock exams. Computer Science was no real issue. Math I bunked off down town and went drinking. In my wisdom I thought that would be the end of it, but then a week or so later I was caught asleep in the common room when I was supposed to be in math class, and paraded into the library to sit the math exam I had skipped.

For the first time in my life I looked at math that I couldn’t just “do”. Not only could I not just bash it out in half the time allotted, it didn’t even make sense. Nothing was familiar. It might as well have been written in Klingon (in fact I’d probably have done better if it was!). Not to be put off, smart arse decided it was the perfect time to deploy ingenuity!

Clearly whoever had insisted I sit the test hadn’t really thought things thorough. Firstly, I was unsupervised, big mistake. Second, they had plunked me down in the library, home of all the text books, unsupervised, HUGE mistake. Being a genius child, it didn’t take long before I was fingering my way across the shelves of math text books on the library shelves. Once I had a nice selection, I headed back to my desk to complete the simple task of looking up the problems in the text books and acing the exam. MONUMENTAL mistake.

Not even on my best day would I have been able to cram six months of learning into 3 hours as well as completing the 3 hour exam. The step from “O” Level to “A” Level wasn’t a step, it was a cliff face. Sherpa Tensing couldn’t have got up it in 3 hours, so a half asleep teen with an overinflated ego had no chance short of building a rocket ship, but as I hadn’t taken rocket science as one of my options I was screwed (would probably have skipped the class anyways so dream on really).

I was faced with the inevitable conclusion that I had run out of talent. Talent had let me sail through everything in life that I had tried, and made it come easy. Now it was that time (the fortunate in life find out much earlier than I did), where it became clear that talent alone is no use, without the addition of effort and work. Kids I had stomped all over at lower school in terms of ability, were handling stuff I now couldn’t,  simply because they had spent their lives working for what they got rather than having it just be there on a silver plate.

Only a truly deluded ego could have withstood and rationalised a culture shock  of those epic proportions. The only way forward was to stop the messing, learn the lesson, and dig in and start working. Unfortunately my ego fit the bill perfectly so I decided to drop math and bum out the next year and a half doing just computer science. More time for the important things in life like darts and beer.

The school let me do this on the basis that I had to pay for my own exam, getting a refund of the money if I passed.  Even nearly managed to nearly blow this chance and ended up trying to finish 2 years of coursework in a matter of hours (in a corridor), as well as leaving the revising of the three case studies we were given, until I was sat outside the exam room (the gods were smiling as I can read fast and retain well and the one study I did manage to get through was the one that came up in the exam).

Through a combination of fluke and applied logic I managed to drag the “F” grade I was teetering on for my project, up to a “D” (pass, just about) when combined with written exam results. The discussion with my mother about going to university wasn’t even a discussion. I believe the quote was something along the lines of, “I’m not paying for you to piss away another two ears of your life, get a job”. At the time, not only was this fair comment, but also aligned perfectly for my cash requirements to fund my increased consumption of alcohol and other substances.

To crown off my teenage years (well, I was just short of my 18th birthday), I met up with a girl on a night out (losing a fantastic career opportunity in the process as described in another article), before announcing to my mother that I was leaving home to go and live with my new woman, picking up my duvet and pillows, and walking out.

Talking about this particular incident (and there were so many to choose from) with my mother in much later years, she tells me that I was such a little cherub, that I chose to make the announcement on the evening after we’d just returned from her mother’s funeral . The fact that this bit of information was not burned into my memory just shows you how far off the rails I had landed, and is to my eternal shame.

Needless to say, moving out of home at that age was the biggest wake up call that anyone could have delivered. Even I started to ”get a grip” and knuckle down, even if it was mostly due to the fear of ever having to swallow my pride and go back home, with duvet under arm and hand out.

Would all of this have been different if I had the right man in my life at the right time? Well, there’s no certain way of knowing. It’s enough to say that I am now in the position of trying to be “that man” to a young boy that’s my responsibility. I care enough about his life and the opportunities that he is going to be able to have, that I have no issue upsetting him in the short term by laying down firm boundaries that he may not like right now.

What time bedtime is is not a discussion, it’s an instruction. The phrase “Can you do your chores please” is never misconstrue as being a request.  Flexibility, choice and input into decision making are considered to be privileges he earns with the maturity of his behavior and actions, not god given rights (he did hit me with the declaration of independence  or something he’d been doing at school one time when he was about 6, citing man’s right to privacy. I assured him that when he was a man he’d have that right).

I’m not trying to win a popularity contest. What I am dearly trying to do is use all of the lessons that I learned the hard way, to help ensure that he doesn’t have to. The certainty is that life will make you learn these lessons one way or another. The choice you have is how much pain you put yourself through before you get a grip and learn.

Another certainty that I have, is that because everything I am doing is really with his best interests a t heart, when he does become “that man” himself, he will understand. Far from harming our relationship I am sure it will make it better. That’s not to say he won’t feel the need to do some things differently (and would probably be right to do so as I’m not pretending to be perfect dad), but I’ll wager that more of the method stays than goes.




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