I remember it well. I’d taken Tom to visit St. Karen. Back to school and time for a haircut. I also had an eight year old Jessica with me: taking her into town for some new trainers if memory serves. At the time I probably thought I was spending quite a lot on her. Little did I know…
(And thanks for asking: we’re on the road to recovery after Jessica’s off-to-university shopping list. The IMF told Greece they’d found a more deserving cause.)
As we waited for our turn – and as I exchanged a few blisteringly funny jokes with Karen – the door opened and a middle-aged man came in, towing his son. “Morning,” I said. “How are you?”
Not surprising: he was an old friend. Had we not drunk and roistered together as dashing young blades? “Morning to you too, James,” I said cheerfully. James was in Jessica’s class – so I knew him well, Horatio.
That was the moment I felt a sharp pain in my leg. A pain…almost as if someone had kicked me. The long arm of coincidence was not required as I had indeed been kicked. Savagely. By my beloved daughter.
“Shut up. Don’t speak to him.”
“But I know him.”
“I don’t care. You’re embarrassing me. Now I won’t be able to go to school on Monday. Don’t ever speak to anyone ever again.”
That was the beginning. Thereafter I turned into a highly embarrassing and badly behaved dad. As I’m now older and – theoretically – wiser it may be appropriate to offer a few apologies to Jessica. Where shall we start?
Definitely the noisiest parent on the touchline when she played football. Yelling, “Give her a good kicking, Jessica” was probably not entirely appropriate for a girls under 11 game. Then again the ginger whinger at centre-half had just yanked my daughter’s hair.
And yes, Jessica, moving on a few years, I now accept that putting Talking Heads on the car stereo and singing along – especially to Psycho Killer – may not have been quite what your friends were expecting when I gave them a lift.
But at long last there is a speck of maturity on the horizon. Not from me. Don’t be ridiculous. As so often, it is in the shape of my youngest son.
“Can I get my hair cut on Saturday afternoon, Dad?” Ben asked.
“Saturday afternoon? Wolves are playing. I wouldn’t want to embarrass you by yelling ‘Goooaaalll’ in the middle of Karen’s.”
“You wouldn’t embarrass me, Dad.”
“It’s kind of you to pretend, son, but I did it once to your brother…”
Ben smiled. Then he gave me his half-patient, half-pitying look. “You can’t embarrass me, Dad. You can only embarrass yourself.”
“Oh,” I said. Then I had a short pause for reflection. That seemed a rather wise remark. Tom used to be embarrassed as soon as I opened my mouth: Jessica by the mere fact of my existence. But Ben decides not to be.
What’s Eleanor Roosevelt supposed to have said? ‘No-one can make you feel inferior without your consent.’ Was this my youngest son making a bid for inclusion in a future famous-quotes anthology? ‘You can’t embarrass me. You can only embarrass yourself.’
I had an even longer pause for reflection. Then I trotted off and discussed it with my wife. “Obviously,” she said.
The trouble is, I’m now defeated before I start. When your teenage son has drunk all your beer, trashed the bathroom and woken you up by stumbling in at four in the morning, embarrassing him is the only way to fight back. But Ben has launched a pre-emptive strike. I may have been outwitted…
Thanks for reading this post. If you enjoyed it, you can buy the ‘Best Dad I Can Be’ sample book with 27 of my favourite posts covering all the years I’ve been writing: it’s all of 77p on your Kindle. Alternatively the first chronological book, ‘Half Dad Half Fish’ which covers the time when the children were 9, 7 and 4 is available here.