Giles Coren on fa­thers (him) and sons (Sam, aged 4). This month: do as you would have been done by

Esquire (UK) - - Contents -

In his new col­umn, Man & Boy, the ed­i­tor-at-large re­flects on how his past will in­form his father­ing skills

Imag­ine be­ing of­fered the chance to start again. To go back to the very be­gin­ning of your life and do it one more time, know­ing what you know now. Would you take it?

I think most peo­ple would. I think at the very least we would go back and make a few tweaks: be kinder to our baby sis­ter; try harder to make friends in the first year at school; pay more at­ten­tion in maths; tell the girl we love from afar how we truly feel; not marry the psy­cho or get the tat­too or drive the car af­ter 14 pints. Maybe write the book or build the log cabin in the woods or sim­ply not give up karate/cricket/Japanese/jazz gui­tar just when we were get­ting good (be­cause we were 15 and any­thing that wasn’t video games or wank­ing seemed point­less) and thus have the chance to ar­rive at this point in our lives, now, in the sum­mer of 2017, hap­pier, more ful­filled, more suc­cess­ful pro­fes­sion­ally, spir­i­tu­ally, ro­man­ti­cally, sex­u­ally…

If you wouldn’t, well then hats the fuck off to you, Romeo, be­cause, at the very least, ev­ery man I know would go back and do an aw­ful lot more shag­ging. If you think you have done so well with the hand God gave you that your life story is one long list of happy events, good for­tune, ex­cel­lent de­ci­sions and op­ti­mal out­comes, then you’re go­ing to have to piss off right now. Be­cause I don’t write for peo­ple like you. No­body does. You just go and sit down naked in front of the ball­room mir­ror of your

enor­mous house in Chelsea and bang one out while wink­ing at your­self, like you do ev­ery morn­ing.

Be­cause me, if I had the chance to go back, I would change ev­ery­thing.

The first week of my life went broadly OK: I do ac­cept that I was lucky to be born into a cre­ative, lib­eral and rea­son­ably wealthy fam­ily in the great­est city in the world. But I had an an­gry fa­ther and a full-time work­ing mother, two things I would change if I could. Not change who they were, just what they did. My mum would be around more and my dad wouldn’t smack me.

And I wouldn’t be born at the end of July and thus al­ways be the youngest and small­est in my year at school. It meant I felt stupid in class and over­com­pen­sated by show­ing off, which made the teach­ers and pupils dis­like me. And it meant I strug­gled to make sports teams for which I was suit­able in terms of abil­ity, on ac­count of my rel­a­tive small­ness. The knock-on ef­fect has been that I still feel short even now, de­spite be­ing of per­fectly av­er­age height for a 47-year-old.

And then I wouldn’t be cir­cum­cised. I’m cool with it these days but it meant I didn’t shower for five years at board­ing school for fear of be­ing beaten up. And I didn’t start hav­ing sex un­til I was 18, for shame, push­ing away the hands of ev­ery girl I snogged at 15, 16, 17, the mo­ment they went for my cock, be­cause I didn’t want them to see that some­one else had got there first, with a knife.

Did I say board­ing school? Yeah, well, that wouldn’t hap­pen ei­ther. Who brings chil­dren into the world just to send them away? Nor would I be in sin­gle sex ed­u­ca­tion from six to 16 — a ridicu­lous warp­ing of pri­or­i­ties, with ef­fects from which I have never fully re­cov­ered. And at what­ever school I ended up at­tend­ing the sec­ond time around, I would not try so hard to do well aca­dem­i­cally, at the ex­pense of hav­ing fun and mak­ing friends.

And if I had my time again I would — though born at the wrong time of year to the wrong kind of par­ents, gen­i­tally mu­ti­lated, sep­a­rated from the op­po­site sex, ban­ished from the fam­ily home, friend­less and ter­ri­fied of girls — ac­cept the in­vi­ta­tion to Nick Rayne’s 12th birth­day party. The first time around, alas, I de­clined it be­cause I was scared I might have to meet girls and/or dance. Ev­ery­one else went to the party, met their first girls and danced their first dances and took off on that great ro­man­tic ad­ven­ture with­out me.

I was so trau­ma­tised by be­ing left be­hind that I have still never danced. True fact. Not a step in the 35 years since then. Though I have talked to some girls, with mixed re­sults. Leav­ing aside sex for a mo­ment, I would choose, at 13, to take Span­ish for GCSE, not German. That was a mas­sive mis­take. I have never once been to Ger­many on hol­i­day, but have vis­ited Spain many times be­cause it is much, much more fun. Un­less you’re stand­ing alone at the fi­esta with a beer, mut­ter­ing, “Spricht je­mand Deutsch?”

I wouldn’t drop the pi­ano be­fore Grade One be­cause I was shy of hav­ing to sing a Mid­dle C in my im­pend­ing test, lead­ing to a life en­tirely free from the joy of mu­sic. And I wouldn’t re­peat­edly refuse to go on the school ski­ing trip for fear of be­ing bad at it, and miss out on a life­time of larks in the snow.

Of­fered the chance, at 16, to spend a year at an Amer­i­can high school as part of an ex­change pro­gramme, I wouldn’t turn it down (turn it down! A year in ac­tual high school!) be­cause, fi­nally, I had a girl­friend, Laura Jes­sop.

And hav­ing stayed be­hind on ac­count of Laura Jes­sop, I would not, this time, when she took all her clothes off and got into my bed at home, with my par­ents out at work, and said, “Fuck me”, say, “Um, ac­tu­ally, I won’t thanks, Laura. I’ve been read­ing the pa­pers and it says you can get Aids from that sort of thing.” Yeah, from 16-year-old, pri­vately-ed­u­cated, fe­male vir­gins. Fuck you, pu­ri­tan­i­cal Eight­ies sex ed­u­ca­tion!

If I had my time again, I would start ther­apy younger (though af­ter my per­fect child­hood maybe I wouldn’t need it so badly). I would drink less in my twen­ties so as not to stall my ca­reer and I would do no drugs at all, ever. I’d go on a plumb­ing course. I’d have my eye­sight sur­gi­cally cor­rected at 25 not 45 and do a course of Roac­cu­tane to cure my “bacne” at 20, not 40. And I’d hold back on the hack jour­nal­ism to make a se­ri­ous go of fic­tion.

But it’s not go­ing to hap­pen. Be­cause, like Nick Car­raway said to Jay Gatsby: “You can’t re­peat the past.” Then again, like Gatsby replied to Car­raway: “Can’t re­peat the past? Why, of course you can!”

And you can, if you have a son. Which, as it hap­pens, I have. But is he win­ter-born, un­cir­cum­cised, the child of a non-vi­o­lent fa­ther and full-time mother, destined to be large for his year, ed­u­cated lo­cally in a mixed en­vi­ron­ment and not pres­sured too much to do well aca­dem­i­cally?

Will he dance and sing and ski, play jazz gui­tar, speak Span­ish, travel widely, fuck even wider, play Test cricket as an ama­teur with his per­fect eye­sight and spot­less back and even­tu­ally write prize-win­ning fic­tion? Well, I guess that is go­ing to be down to me, and how I raise him. They say that you should never make the mis­take of us­ing your chil­dren to right the wrongs of your own up­bring­ing.

But he’s my son, so I’ll do what I damned well want.

They say that you should never make the mis­take of us­ing your chil­dren to right the wrongs of your own up­bring­ing. But he’s my son, so I’ll do what I damned well want

At home with the Corens: “just re­mem­ber these words, Sam — ‘clear his­tory…’”

New col­umn!

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