Of all the important things taught at seats of learning both great and small, how to be a parent stands little chance of being included on the curriculum. Like parachuting, deep sea diving and mating, all the manuals, theory and research in the world cannot replace the hands-on experience of on-the-job training. Failure seems inevitable as attempting to channel positivity, hope, compassion and basic human decency without imposing anxiety, fear and an all consuming ambition is a balancing act that is almost impossible to carry off. Thus, misplaced and erroneous reflected parental glory came a knocking on the door on AS-Level results day.
We have tried our very best not to impose pressure in the pursuit of top examination grades preferring to allow young minds to chart their own course. We failed on occasions and with hindsight comments such as “what do you mean you can`t grasp the concept of filial piety in King Lear” and “for heaven`s sake, child, it`s only a quadratic equation” barked across the dinner table did not exactly help. After a while, the stock question “have you done your homework” was always replied with “yes” even though we knew the answer was always “no”. As one wag many years ago wrote on the wall of the gents at my student union; “knowledge wilts in the greenhouse of academia”.
Throughout the intense examination period that marked the end of what in my day was called the lower sixth, we played down the importance of academic success in the hope the Neanderthal that occupies a room in our house would not become too stressed. I could not look him in the eye and claim to have worked like a Trojan during the sixth form because as he towers head and shoulders above me it is impossible to look him in the eye. I did tell him that the night before my English A-Level exam I was out until three in the morning at a Rory Gallagher concert and I still passed. He was cool with that but his mother kicked me on the shin.
It seems that any potential anxiety he might have experienced had passed by parental osmosis into me and his mother and as the day of the results approached we were trembling like virgin skydivers wearing lead boots and a diving helmet. He returned from school clutching the envelope and his arrival at the door was accompanied by a low rumble of thunder and I recalled the significance of Lear`s Fool as the storm approached. We were just about able to translate the usual series of monosyllabic grunts into “A Star, A Star, A and A”.
Patriarchal pride got the better of me and I fully understand and accept his decision to head-butt me when I tried to kiss him. Clutching an almost broken nose, I went out and bought cake.
His achievement, along with the rest of his generation, is made all the more remarkable considering the dreadful treatment they have received from a succession of woeful Education Secretaries but not least the truly dangerous Michael Gove. Changing curriculum content, marking criteria, grade boundaries and university entrance requirements in the middle of a course of study is likely to provoke a head-butt if I ever come anywhere near Michael Gove. Branding teachers as Marxists and insulting students by calling them stupid in a pathetic attempt to cover his own abject failure will be the putrid legacy of this miserable apology for a human being. In spite of Gove`s best efforts to ruin their education, my son and thousands upon thousands of his peers just blew Gove away.
The success of these young people, assuming a passing nod of appreciation to their teachers, is based entirely on their own efforts. When they look at the world they are inheriting; at Gaza, Syria, Iraq, the CAR, Ukraine, Ferguson Missouri and the bloody House of Commons at each others` throats, they must gasp with disbelief that we old folk describe their behaviour as anti-social and shallow. I consider myself lucky that my children have not yet thrown me out of the house.
Philip Larkin might have been a depressing, right-wing casual racist but he had a way with words when describing the misery of the human condition. After cake and a great deal of fatherly strutting, I emailed the Neanderthal a link to something he might like. This is for all the brilliant, talented, outstanding people who have just either passed or failed their exams. If humanity is to survive, you are our only hope.