“Youth is wasted on the young” said Oscar Wilde once upon a time of privilege, talent and fawning acclaim.
The same man who would later pen the Ballad of Reading Gaol, line after anguished line about the last days of a condemned murderer, but really about his far fallen self.
No, that’s not where Generation Snowflake are heading …
But it is amazing how the young can make their first steps into early adulthood, especially, so hard for themselves. And for those closest to them. Those who would guide them, as best they know. And pay most of their bills.
Truth is I’m getting it just as right and wrong with our one tween and one teen as the next Dad. And sometimes I actually make things worse.
But they can be so annoying for us parents: picking at the one spot in their otherwise perfect complexions, and timidly agonising over what the world thinks of them. And not so timidly deriding our efforts to limit phone use, or get them to do their Spanish homework.
But then maybe wisdom is wasted on the mature: what do we well upholstered old farts actually do about the world we critique from our well-upholstered sofas? At least you can get a good laugh out of YouTube …
But I do fear that maybe education is being wasted on the young too. Not just the narrow educational attainment thing, but in preparing them for life. Of the soul as well as of the career.
I went to college myself. Both as a clueless 16 going on 17-year-old, and then as a working adult, hungry for identified knowledge and determined to make the most of it.
The younger guy wafted through his first university degree course, somehow collecting a parchment and a career he would soon abandon, or rather never really take up.
The older me never missed a lecture, and the parchment arrived long after the new career was eagerly embarked upon. The same career hasn’t been roses since, but it’s been okay.
It was during my first spell in college I came upon that great concept, the “self-fulfilling prophecy”.
For me then it was the somewhat literal notion that you actually determined your own path in life by believing it was going to be so, and then acting to make it happen. Just as you “predicted”.
It was tied in for me with learning how people from disadvantaged backgrounds failed in education because they believed there was no point in “people like them” going to college because the Varadkars running the country didn’t care about people like them.
Realisations like this fired those student marches and protests I took part in with youthful gusto. Wish I had that passion now …
The self-fulfilling prophecy idea has stayed with me, and I see it working in ways I had never considered.
Like the other day, at the dinner table when 14-year-old K pushed away her plate of “horrible” beef stroganoff and told us she was going back up to her room.
Not before finishing her salvo about getting driving lessons when she was 16 and having her own car, “and nothing you can do about it”.
And I found myself sniping away about young people being “way too irresponsible and inconsiderate” to be driving at a young age.
“And certainly not you, K, unless you start showing the kind of responsibility and thought for others you need if you are going to be driving a car on a public road,” I heard myself say.
Yes, I was also venting my anger at the thousand scowls and sullen barbs directed every day at our efforts to manage our 14-year-old girl. We say toe-mate-o …
But I thought later of our old friend, the self-fulfilling prophecy.
I hated the reactionary guff I was coming out with, but in this arena of raised voices and flushed convictions, I felt like a prisoner in a constructed gaol. Built by K and me. Together.
Not quite Reading Gaol, but a gaol nonetheless. Shaped by her opinion of me, I was, and am, acting and behaving accordingly. Unless we can build an escape tunnel …
I was saying things like: “look at the statistics, the amount of traffic accidents and deaths caused by young drivers”.
Statistics which of course I had pulled out of my derriere, backed by images of news reports of another car load of youngsters careering into a wall on the way home from a nightclub.
No mention did I make to K then of my wife’s fantastic recently turned 21-year-old nephew who works so hard at the weekends and completely finances the car he drives up and back to college in.
Our kids can and do strip us of our pompous cloaks of sophistication, sophistry and people-off-the world experience.
But sometimes things are just a bit more than young adult black and white and evolving grey, and as parents, we simply have to hold unpopular lines.
The other night I met up, as I regularly do, with a great friend, and it was wonderful to sink into that lovely warm overcoat of shared experience and unstated backstory, and just talk. Over pints.
As always our conversation soared effortlessly in directions familiar and sparklingly unexpected, anchored on our mutual regard and affection, and a feeling of being in a safe, safe place. And I’m not just talking about the pub!
I was enjoying my pal, but I was enjoying myself, as in enjoying my self.
Here we were, yarning and fulminating and making light and merry and interesting. The good old boys of our own self-fulfilling prophesy.
Then another thought cut into my lager reverie:
“Pity you’re not like this with your daughter”.
Instead of a gaol, why aren’t we building a safe, safe place — like the one my pal and I have made for ourselves?
A sun-filled, open-plan place where K and I can laugh and talk and share, better than even Dermot Bannon could design, out of which she will one day walk to take her full place in the real world. A good life.
The one she prophesied and I helped her fulfil.
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