Hal’s Reading Diary
Hal is about to be 11 and asserting his right to be different from his father – from table manners to tastes in reading. Hal’s father, psychodynamic counsellor Roger Mills, explains.
The Sunday before last we had an argument about table manners. To be a bit more specific, Hal’s table manners. It started with me criticising him for shovelling huge bits of pork and whole potatoes into his mouth. I asked him to cut the food up. He ignored me. I got annoyed at being ignored and things escalated. At one point in the ensuing argument Hal turned to me and said, ‘Look Dad, why don’t we just agree that you do things the way you like to do them. And I’ll do things the way I like to do them.’ I vainly protested that he was heading for a life of social ridicule, but Hal was unimpressed and I ended by lapsing into a grumpy silence.
You may wonder what this has to do with reading and the answer is in Hal’s comment. After I had cooled down (and we are, regrettably, talking next day here) I fell to thinking about how I have a tendency to always want to mould Hal. Perhaps every parent is like this. But for some reason his comment really jolted me into seeing that in many, many ways I try to get Hal to do the things that I want him to do; to be the kind of kid that I want him to be.
I see this in sports where I try to steer him towards tennis and cricket – my games. I see it in my attitudes to his friends where I try to steer him away from the kid with the rather superior parents whom he idolises and towards the kid with the sympathetic parents who are into reading and art house movies just like me. And of course I see it in relation to his reading.
Hal has currently got into the ‘Boy Soldier’ series co-authored by Andy McNab (of Bravo Two Zero fame) and Robert Rigby. I should be delighted by this. For one thing the Andy McNab book has got Hal reading to himself as I have never seen before. This morning, for example, I went into his room at 6.45 to get him up and he was lying in bed, the light on, quietly reading Boy Soldier. This is pretty much a first and though he makes the odd comment that suggests he still sees it as work (‘only 4 pages to go till the end of the chapter’ etc), no-one asked him to read to himself and I would chalk this down as real progress.
And yet, despite this enthusiasm, which I should be applauding, the moulding me is still just a little disgruntled. Why doesn’t Hal sit in bed reading books about History? Or Science? After all I know some kids Hal’s age who do.
And then I stop and think. And feel rather ashamed if the truth be told. Just let Hal be Hal. If he’s into Andy McNab that’s what he is into. I can’t force him to be something. I can only introduce him to things which he may or may not like. And the strange thing is that, in thinking the laissez faire way, I’ve noticed that I feel rather happier. It is as if it gives me a relief from something. From the endless meritocratic pressure that I think surrounds so many parents about their kids. Relief from the endless comparisons – x is brilliant at Maths, y is a wonderful footballer. Just let Hal be Hal. When I think like that I feel a bit more at peace and I am quite sure that it will make him feel more supported as well. So a resolution for the future. But I still think he should cut up his potatoes.
Boy Soldier by Andy McNab and Robert Rigby is published by Corgi (978 0 5525 5221 9) at £5.99 pbk.