Into the Vortex

Am I not a good parent? Is my children’s welfare not at the heart of everything I do?

“Is there anything you need to take back to uni?” I asked Tom.

“No, I’m good.”

“Coffee? Biscuits? Notebooks?”

I glanced over his shoulder. My son was simultaneously working on two computer screens. ‘Working’ may have been a relative term for one of the screens – it was showing the Bayern Munich game – but the other one was full of graphs and wavy lines and the sort of equations that make Stephen Hawking nervous.

So he’s probably moved a little bit beyond ‘notebooks.’ But as a parent, you want to help. He’s 22. He’s doing a Masters in Engineering. But I’m his Dad. I still feel like I should be helping with his homework. So from time to time I ask what he’s doing.

“Just course work.”

“Well tell me. I might be able to help.”

“I’m computing complex vortex flows using spectral methods.”

As I said, I occasionally ask what he’s doing. Sometimes I understand the answer…

“I’m sorry?”

“Airflow over the front wing of an F1 car. It creates a vortex.”

Sadly, I’m childish.  I can never hear the word ‘vortex’ without thinking of Ming the Merciless. “Who dares to enter the Imperial Vortex?”

“What, Dad?”

“Nothing. Just thinking back to when you were younger.  You don’t want coffee then?”

“No, I’m good.”

A day later I’m in Sainsbury’s. And the coffee Tom likes is on special offer. See above. Am I not a good father? I buy two tins of it.

“Here you go,” I say. “I know you didn’t need it. But I bought you a couple of tins of your favourite coffee to take back with you.”

There. I may be baffled by a vortex, but I can still buy coffee.

“I don’t drink that any more, Dad.”


“I only use a cafetiere now.”

Well that was me told. So much for my upmarket instant. “OK, then. Why don’t you take that nice coffee we’ve got in the kitchen? Pact have sent another bag this week so do that.”

“No, I’m good.”

Five minutes later I discovered the reason why my son was ‘good.’ He’d finished my best coffee.

Damn it, I’d hired security guards to patrol the wine rack and forgotten my sexy little bag of Fazenda Chapada.

“OK,” I said. “I’m going downstairs to rehearse with Ben. Keep the noise down will you? And no swearing.”

It’s one of my major failings as a father. “I’ve started supporting a team in the Premiership,” Tom said as we drove him home from his first term at university.

“Anyone but Liverpool,” I muttered under my breath.

“Liverpool,” he said proudly.

And tonight they were playing Man United in the Europa League, the match live on BT Sport. We don’t have BT Sport but when has Tom ever let a little thing like that stand in his way? I think he was about 13 when the internet police informed me I’d shortly be going to jail if Tom didn’t stop watching the Jason Bourne films before the cinema audience.

“I’ll watch the second half with you,” I said. “Leave a space in your bedroom.”

“I thought I’d watch it on the TV.”

It took a while for this to sink in. “You’re going to illegally stream it onto your laptop and then stream that through our TV?”


Thank goodness his mother was away. “Just make sure you put the TV channels back the way they were.”

He smiled. “You can do that can’t you, Dad?”

Sadly, no. I understand the TV about as well as I understand complex vortex flows…

A quick note of explanation re the ‘rehearse with Ben’ comment. Ben and I are making our father/son public speaking debut this week. See next week for more details…

Nominations for the BritMums ‘Brilliance in Blogging’ Awards are now open. If you’ve enjoyed reading this post – or any of the ‘Best Dad’ posts – then I’d really appreciate your nomination, in any (or all…) of the Writer, Family or Reader’s Choice categories. Here’s the link – and thank you very much.



  1. Yep! Totally agree. It isn’t easy.

    Our son is 14 today, taller than me by three heads, speaks three languages (we’re in Madrid at the moment and everywhere we go I keep mentioning to the locals that they ought to have a conversation with him, so that I can hear him speak in Spanish! No one is impressed. Least of all son…!) and a bare sprinkling of Chinese and Japanese, wanting to be a scientist “in some form” and as open-minded and stubborn as I am. But as a parent, I too want to help in any way I can.

    “Shall I make (insert German words) dinner?” I say. Both husband and son look around in horror as I’m the world’s worst cook but still. I try my best not to look upset when son says “It’s fine. I’ll wait for daddy to make it!”

    • It’s not that I want to help, Victoria. I feel compelled to help. Or at least, try and help. Yes, Tom would far rather I go down to the kitchen and get to work on a Carbonara – but I have to make the offer, despite not having the remotest clue what he’s doing. Then again it can’t be that many years until the circle of life turns again and I’m back reading ‘The Little Blue Pirate…’

  2. Whenever I think of ‘vortex’ I think of the old BBC show The Adventure Game, complete with its BBC Micro graphics. (Heads off to YouTube immediately …)

    And good luck with the awards too!

    • Thanks, Tim – you too. And you need to be careful with YouTube: you’ll be idly watching your favourite band from the 80’s one day and a cruising child will peer over your shoulder. Ridicule will swiftly follow…

  3. champers66 says:

    You always get parenting older kids so right. This made me smile about the potential of Boy and feel sad (missing my Girl) all at once X

    • I don’t know about that, Sue! But I know exactly what you mean about smiling and feeling sad at the same time. I took Tom back yesterday for his last term at uni. Seems about 3 weeks since we collected him after his first term Can’t believe that the little boy whose hand I held and took to nursery is going to be a proper person with a proper job. Sigh…

Thanks for reading: feel free to comment...