The dreaded call from school.
“Hello, is that O’s dad? Are you free to talk?”
A sharp inhalation of panic.
(The first voice you will hear in your worried parent’s head will be wobbly, utterly unconvincing Little Internal Voice.
‘It’s probably nothing’, he wheedles,. ‘He forgot his maths copy or something’.
(‘SHUT UP, YOU SAP, THIS IS A JOB FOR BIG INTERNAL VOICE:
(‘WHAT HAS HE DONE? … HE’S BADLY HURT, ISN’T HE? … THE AMBULANCE IS ON ITS WAY … ’)
“Hi, this is X, your son’s form teacher … we’ve talked before …”
Regular Cagey But Calm Voice actually answers her.
“Oh, hi, yes …”
Yes, I got one of those Phone Calls From School last week.
I almost jumped up a few point sizes even typing that.
She had reprimanded O for swinging off a classroom door.
(‘Hah, is that all?’, said Little Internal Voice, ‘I’ve got this)
There was more.
She was worried about O. Said she thought she had seen a change in attitude recently … not himself … and even now when she was talking to him, his head was down, looking away from her.
(‘OH, OH …’)
I was worried.
I could break here into an abstract discussion about boy kids finding it difficult to express their feelings, or struggles. How this ties in with male anger, emotional inarticulacy, and the ultimate horror word
The thing it seems every father of every son worries about but doesn’t want to really talk about …
But I can only talk here of my own fears and what that phone call brought up for me.
Without revealing too much, two of the biggest rows I have had with O sprang from conflict situations he found himself in, both relating to his beloved football.
And boy were they big … my normal charming blond-haired delight of a boy became a snot-bubbling, F-ing and blinding dervish.
And me struggling to be calm, to contain this rage, but gripped by fear, feelings of utter inadequacy and against-all-the-text-books ANGER.
Interestingly both rows were not over the actual incidents themselves.
They erupted over my efforts the following day to bring up what had happened to help him work through dealing better with the emotions that had been unleashed in him.
He did not want to talk about them: they were over: internalised, dealt with, and HE HAD MOVED ON.
It’s what he does, you see. What he has always done.
When he was in primary school, himself and his sister went there by mini-bus, as the school was four miles away. We found out a couple of the older boys had been picking on him for some time.
Normal school-kid slagging, but bad enough for other kids to remark on it and for it to be ultimately brought to our attention. And to the school’s.
He had never said a word. The school got involved now and it was all handled very well.
The Mom of one of the kids told us what her boy and told her: ‘O doesn’t mind it, he never says anything, He doesn’t get upset.’
Which ‘insight’ reached right in and squeezed my heart and just scared me so.
Classic stuff, I thought, doesn’t express … files it all away
(… UNTIL ONE DAY HE EXPLODES … HURTS SOMEONE … HURTS HIMSELF … COMMITS SUI …)
So the choice, it seemed, is to leave him alone, let him work it out, in his own way, or intervene and help him put a name on all those powerful forces buffeting him in such situations, and having tamed them in the naming maybe, help him to deal with them in a healthier way. Talk to someone.
The second row, in particular, was like going cold turkey with a junkie. He roared, abused and generally let loose … it was The Exorcist meets Dr Phil. Well, a pretty unconvincing Dr Phil. Hoping my bumbling sincerity would overcome the inadequacies of my actual words.
When the emotional stuff subsided we talked about what had happened, how, as your parents, Mom and Dad have to know that you are all right, and that you will come to us if something is really bothering you.
All was calm and he agreed. It was easy to agree now, after the storm.
But knowing, as his Dad, he was filing this experience away too, moving on.
But this is important too: O has his own way of coping in stressful situations. This filing away, moving on, is actually very powerful.
Part of all this is me voicing my fears that his way is ultimately damaging, that he might explode one day. My fears. Maybe he won’t. Maybe he’s got this.
Maybe his methods are getting more sophisticated.
For now, let me say that O had his own take on the swinging off the door incident in school.
He reckoned it was no big deal, and he told me, that while the form teacher is lovely, she was overreacting and he just said nothing, let her have her say. Filed it way and moved on.
Ultimately, I have to trust that O can handle these situations, deal with all the swirling, whirling emotions, file the experience away and, yes, move on.
He might be right …