The last thing I want to do is force my little boy into anything he doesn’t want to do, but how will he experience new things if we don’t give him the occasional nudge in the right direction?
I tend to base a lot of my parenting decisions on what my mum and dad did with me (after all, I turned out great!). And when I look back at my childhood, I realise they always encouraged me to try new things. Football, rock-climbing, horse riding, tennis lessons, swimming clubs, rugby, bird watching, drama, golf, table-tennis, abseiling, canoeing, archery and cycling were just some of the many activities I remember having a crack at as a kid. At one stage I even tried (and failed horribly) to learn how to play the recorder, before I realised I was the least musical person on the planet.
Eventually most of those activities fell by the wayside while I filtered out the stuff I wasn’t all that interested in. Goodbye horse-riding. See you later amateur dramatics. No thanks rugby, I’m too much of a scrawny wimp. But the point is I kept trying new things. Often not because I wanted to, but because my parents constantly encouraged me to. Sometimes I found it annoying, but when I look back now I realise they just wanted me to keep looking until I found what it was I really loved.
For me, that was football, tennis and walking up mountains. Those three activities have brought me some of the happiest and most memorable moments of my life, and helped me form friendships that will last for the rest of my life. And if it wasn’t for my dad taking me to football trials, my mum buying me that Andre Agassi replica Donnay racket I begged her for months for, or the fact I was forever being whipped away to the Lake District to walk up some sodden and remote mountain, none of that would have happened.
I look at Sonny now, nine months old and with all the enthusiasm in the world, and I’m forever wondering what he’ll grow up to be. Of course I’d love to watch him play competitive football, take him to Anfield to watch the mighty Reds, cheer him on while he wins his 10th Wimbledon title, and climb mountains with him all over the world. What kind of dad wouldn’t? Those are my passions and I couldn’t think of anything that would make me happier than sharing them with my son.
I’d be lying if I said I won’t encourage him down the same path as me, but I won’t force him. If he doesn’t like football, I’ll suck it up and take him to try something else. If he can’t hit a backhand to save his life, I won’t persist with tennis if he wants to give it up. If he can’t see the point of walking up a wet and windy hill in the middle of nowhere, I’ll grudgingly accept he’s got a lot more sense than his old man. But the important thing for me is that I’ll have tried. I’ll have shown him all the things that are out there for him and let him make his own decisions.
I want Sonny to think for himself and grow up to be his own man, and if we’ve helped him make those choices then I’ll know we’ve done our jobs as parents.
Just as long as he doesn’t make me sit through cricket matches…