Giles Coren

Giles Coren on fathers (him) and sons (Sam, aged five). This month: cry­ing foul

Esquire (UK) - - Contents - Giles Coren

His lat­est com­mu­niqué from the front­line of fa­ther­hood ex­plores why fair play tri­umphs over foul

we’re play­ing foot­ball in the park: Sam, his seven-yearold sis­ter, Kitty, and me. Kitty doesn’t re­ally want to, she’d rather read a book or walk round and round in cir­cles, suck­ing her thumb and think­ing about how she is go­ing to kill both her par­ents and her brother with­out the plod catch­ing on. But he’s been nag­ging so much to play that she says OK.

To be nice, Kitty of­fers to go in goal so that Sam can be Lionel Messi (he’s in his Barcelona shirt).

Sam throws back his head, closes his eyes and says, “Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh!!!”

I mean. The fuck?

“Sam?” I say. “What’s wrong?”

“Waaaaaaaahhh!!!” He replies.

So I go over and kneel down in front of him to be at his eye level — in ac­cor­dance with the prac­tice laid down in the Soppy Mil­len­nial Par­ent’s Guide to De­bas­ing Your­self Com­pletely at the Be­hest of your Fuck­head Tod­dler (Vol 3, Talk­ing to the Lit­tle Cunt) — and I ask him to try and say what he wants in ac­tual words.

“I wanted to be goalie!” He wails.

So I ex­plain that in a sit­u­a­tion like this, the thing to do is sim­ply to say, “Ac­tu­ally, Kitty, can I go in goal, please?” And not just to de­fault im­me­di­ately to the cry­ing and scream­ing, like he does, for ex­am­ple, when I turn on the tele­vi­sion so he can watch CBee­bies af­ter break­fast but it mo­men­tar­ily plays a few se­conds of the cricket I had been watch­ing the

night be­fore (“Waaaaaaaah! I don’t want to watch cricket! Waaaaaaaahhh!!!”), or we are out of Chee­rios in the morn­ing (“But you promised me! Waaaaaaaah! You’re a LIAR! Waaaaaaaahhh!!!”), or, re­ally, any­thing.

So then Sam goes in goal. He makes him­self big, arms out, like a pro­fes­sional keeper await­ing a penalty kick and starts taunt­ing Kitty, “You’re never gonna score! You’re rub­bish! Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyaaaah!”

So then Kitty, thumb still in mouth, walks slowly up to the small, or­ange foot­ball and gives it a sulky lit­tle kick. It rolls very, very slowly across the damp grass to­wards Sam, then past him, very slowly — Sam look­ing down at it all the time — and into the goal we have made with our jer­seys.

Kitty takes her thumb out of her mouth and asks, “Is that a goal, then?”

“Waaaaaaaahhh!!!” says Sam. “She cheeeeeeeated!”

“She didn’t cheat,” I say. “She just kicked the ball into the goal. You could have saved it if you’d wanted to.”

“Waaaaaaaahhh!!!” says Sam, ly­ing down on the damp, dog-shitty grass. “You’re a LIAR!!! Waaaaaaaaaahhh!!!”

And then he cries and cries and cries. Kitty shrugs and walks off, suck­ing her thumb.

And I am left there, once again, try­ing to deal with the fact that my beau­ti­ful son, this tall, strong, golden-haired, soft-cheeked boy with the im­mac­u­late cover drive, who is learn­ing to read so nicely and loves his mum and dad and is into foot­ball cards and Bi­ble sto­ries and fried cala­mari and who I love so very, very much… is a fuck­ing wuss.

Is that an OK thing to say in 2018? I worry that it is not. That it will be taken for sex­ism or ho­mo­pho­bia. But that is not what it is. It has noth­ing to do with ei­ther of those things. My girl doesn’t cry re­ally ever. Un­less she cuts her­self deeply while tor­tur­ing frogs with a Stan­ley knife. And she’s a girl. And I see no cor­re­la­tion in the wider world be­tween be­ing gay and a ten­dency to throw a mas­sive teary fuck­ing fit over the small­est thing.

I’m not call­ing him “girly” or “gay”. I’m just say­ing that he is a wuss. A big fuck­ing jessie. A soppy git. When faced with even the re­motest — of­ten com­pletely imag­ined — set­back, he does not spend even a sec­ond in ra­tio­nal thought or mea­sured re­sponse. He just throws him­self to the ground and cries.

And that is just shit. And is no way for a man to be­have. Or a woman. But we are deal­ing with men here, fathers and sons.

So what do I say? I feel the im­pulse to tell him to “be a man” or a “big strong boy” be­cause that is lan­guage he un­der­stands. But I’ve just said it is not about gen­der, so then I can’t go mak­ing mean­ing­less equiv­o­ca­tions be­tween mas­culin­ity and emo­tional re­silience that I don’t be­lieve in, can I?

Should I beat it out of him? Does that even work? My own dad smacked the shit out of me as a kid — in anger, as a pun­ish­ment for small crimes such as rat­tling my cut­lery at the ta­ble or giv­ing him backchat, rather than to cor­rect any per­ceived wussery — and the re­sult has been that in adult­hood I fear no one. Be­cause no­body will ever do to me what he did. And even if they do, or threaten to, they will not be twice my size and three times my weight (which would mean they were a rhino, which I prob­a­bly would be scared of). And that lack of fear has got me quite a long way. And I am glad of it.

Ex­cept that I am mis­er­able. For the very same rea­son that I am fear­less. Be­cause my trust in the safety of home and the ex­is­tence of places where no one can hurt you and love is un­con­di­tional was shat­tered a very long time ago.

Maybe that is how it is for all tough peo­ple?

So I won’t be smack­ing him, no. I am not go­ing to make my­self into the mon­ster he sur­vived to be­come the man he is now. That is a sac­ri­fice I am not pre­pared to make, even for him.

I was still think­ing about all this later that same day when we sat down to watch a World Cup game to­gether, Sam nuz­zled comfily into my chest, and a player on one side went to ground af­ter barely a touch on the hip from an­other guy’s hip. Went to ground clutch­ing his face and scream­ing. Then looked up when no­body took any no­tice and pur­sued the ref­eree, weep­ing and re­mon­strat­ing, his arms stretched out in a ges­ture of dis­be­lief at the world’s in­jus­tice — so that one couldn’t tell if it was the pain of the imag­ined in­jury or rage at the per­ceived in­jus­tice that was bring­ing forth the tears — un­til even­tu­ally the ref stopped, and turned to the guy, and showed him a yel­low card. I won­dered if maybe Sam had learned any­thing from this.

“Did you see what hap­pened there?” I asked him.

“Yes,” said Sam. “The man got a foul and he was cry­ing and cry­ing.”

“And do you think he was re­ally in­jured?”

“Yes, be­cause he was cry­ing and cry­ing!”

“So why did the ref­eree give him a yel­low card then?”

Sam thought for a bit. And then said:

“Be­cause he wasn’t his daddy.”

When faced with the re­motest set­back, Sam does not spend even a sec­ond in ra­tio­nal thought or mea­sured re­sponse. He just throws him­self to the ground and cries

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