My son is expending a huge amount of energy on being cool/being in; being safely ensconced in the little mob. I understand that. The not particularly appealing truth is that compound pressures – shockingly cheap ones – insist that as a young bloke (at school) you have to avoid the perception of ‘gay stuff’. So if you are ‘bright’ – and what a loaded word that baby is – or in some other way may be seen or suspected to be spookily other to the durable surfy or sporty norm, you have to do stuff. Chiefly, you have to trip other blokes up and laugh, or wrestle, or join in the chorus of grunts aimed at individuals who either fail the informal Cool Exams, or who appear immune to the essential trends, poor dumbo’s. It really can be a jungle; a jungle with fringes you have to casually flick.
So, barring haircuts/degree of undies exposure things apparently haven’t changed much since I was a kid. I kindof oscillated between being something of a little mob leader and teetering on the brink of gaydom. Because I was almost painfully skinny and brainy; because I was (thank god) bloody good at sports; because I made the guys laugh. Otherwise who knows? I saw very little overt physical bullying and guess that remains at similar levels – again, who knows? I am pretty sure, however that pressures to have the right clobber and do the right things have multiplied as awarenesses of products (as much as anything) have exploded. I suspect there’s a lot of quiet heartbreak going on.
The fact that much of this is centred upon a brutally stupid contrast between fashionable conformities and individual expressions of self make it all the more deplorable, all the more poignant. For cheap macho values to have taken such a hold so early is massively harmful. But it has, I’m seeing it every day. (I repeat) The black and white of it for me was that
a) because I could only dream of being ‘wiry’
b) because I kept coming top
c) because I actually could sound a bit French in French
I apparently deserved to die a slow painful death. Unless the following qualities intervened in my favour;
d) I was the fastest
e) I was tasty on the footie/rugby/cricket pitch
f) (unbelievably) I was kinda… funny.
Intervene they did, largely.
My schooldays, like my sons, were generally good. In fact – and this may be unflatteringly contradictory – I am clear that the ‘ordinariness’ of my education (at Matthew Humberstone Comp. Cleethorpes, if you must know) was the making of me in many positive ways. Ways that I actually cherish. I literally grew up with guys (mainly) who aren’t now reading The Guardian. They are in workshops/on ships/in difficulty as well as in schools or offices. Some were academically ‘hopeless’ but on a sports pitch they were transformed from footie hooligans to bundles of skill and expression – of intelligence even. Such is the roughness of the macho diamond; would that we could dig it from the dungheap.
So what do we do, as parents, as blokes? I have laboured the point to both my kids that everyone must be valued. That this is paramount. I have forewarned my son – wrongly perhaps – that he has nothing to fear (in being brainy) because he is a good honest, sporty lad, insulated from meaningless grief through his ability to clump people on the rugby pitch and smash cover drives. How much more satisfactory would it be to be able to say nowt, or feel comfortable that he could be fearlessly weedy/geeky/gay as he liked, if he needed to be.