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Ten things to teach my son

September 21, 2014

I’ve been giving a great deal of advice to my son this week. We’re at the “this is why we don’t kick/bite” stage of toddlerdom. But it got me to thinking: what do I want him to know? You know, the really important things.

  1. Your family and your friends are more important than anything else. Don’t let money, work, status, or politics become more of a factor in your life.
  2. Football is not a gentleman’s game. Rugby is.
  3. Appreciate the classics. You will learn nothing about poise, style, or gentlemanly demeanour by watching any film, listening to any album, or reading any book published after 1965. No real man fears a bow tie, pink shirt, tidy hat, or well fitted tweed jacket.
  4. Treat the women in your life with respect. They are our equals in every way: intellect, work, and capability, and they are often better judges of people than we men are. But this doesn’t mean you should treat them with less social consideration for that. You treat your mam as if she’s special, because she is.
  5. Don’t let anyone but you define who you are. Your own culture or identity is for you to decide. Your political views don’t make you less or more worthy. We’ll give you enough information and understanding to make your own informed religious decisions, but you decide those for yourself. Even if I know it’s impossible to be a Christian and not be a socialist by the same definition, I want you to know why you believe in your values and to challenge what I say. But at the same time, show respect for other people’s faith and values: dress appropriately in their houses of worship, listen to their views politely, and envy them the security they get from their faith while reserving your right to disagree. Know the history of your country and your world, but don’t swallow the myths uncritically. Your ability or not in the Welsh language doesn’t make you less or more Welsh. America is neither an imperialist aggressor or a democratic Valhalla, but it has an awful lot more to recommend it than not. Ask the questions.
  6. Be discerning with music. I’d rather you didn’t confuse what you hear at Glastonbury with actual music, but don’t ever be afraid to say “actually, I like to listen to this” even if none of your schoolfriends do. Never be ashamed to say you enjoy classical music, go to the theatre, watch the ballet, or appreciate art even if you don’t understand it. And don’t let me every hear you say “I can’t sing.” That’s rubbish: everyone can. And real men do. Loudly.
  7. Read. Listening to podcasts, doing computer research, watching PBS, all of this is worthwhile. But none of this compares with reading a book. Make sure you understand that a book is our instant ticket to a better, more interesting, more vivid, more engaging world. You have a brain, so make sure you use it, stretch it, and fill it.
  8. Do the little things well. Sign your name with a fountain pen. Iron and starch your shirts, and do that yourself. Learn to change manual gears properly. Know how to give and take a compliment, or a rebuke. Tie your bow-tie yourself, and know that a dinner-jacket never has notched lapels. Know that real luggage is not made of black nylon. Wear decent shoes (and polish them). Learn how to focus an SLR camera, light a coal/wood fire, top up the oil on your car, and read a newspaper critically.
  9. Learn to handle your drink. A bottle of wine with friends is, as one great trumpeter put it, one of life’s warmest pleasures. A vomiting drunk is contemptible. So drink beer when you’re out, wine when you’re in, and spirits when you’re only having one or two, and then with your closest friends. Know the difference. While we are at it: smoke a pipe rather than a cigar, a cigar rather than a cigarette, and ideally the first two in moderation and the last not at all.
  10. You stand up to bullies. If somebody is being picked on, whether in school or in work or in life, you intervene because it’s your business. We look after people who need our help. And that goes for the way you vote, the way you pay taxes for an NHS, and the way you act when you make your career. I call it being a socialist, or a progressive. You might equally call it being civilised.

I’m sure there’s more, but if you do most or some of this, we’ll be even prouder than we already are. If that’s possible.


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Personal views of a wordsmithing, sartorialist, horn-playing, state school Oxonian dad, rugby ref, recovering politico, and fan of vintage tailoring, Ralph Lauren style, and sharp writing.

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