The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


Never Apologise For Your Emotions …

I cry.

I cry a lot.

I cry at films.

I cry at memories.

I cry at just how much I love Otis.

Now I appreciate that’s not the sort of thing you should admit, but that’s what I want to change.

I get why it happens.

From the moment we are kids, we are told not to cry.

To be fair, it’s less to do with any sense of parental embarrassment and more to do with parents hating seeing their precious child being upset, but in my opinion, it’s still wrong.

But it gets worse.

Especially for little boys.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard a Dad tell their little man who has fallen over …

“Big boys don’t cry”.

I totally appreciate they’re not saying it to be mean, but I can’t help but worry for what we are teaching the men of tomorrow.

Especially in America.

I was lucky, I was brought up in a household that didn’t try to hide emotions.

I was taught it was healthy and was encouraged to express how I felt.

Now I know that was pretty rare, but fortunately for everyone else, there was the local pub.

The pub was more than a place for drinking, it was a place for men to express their feelings.

Sure, they did it through banter and jokes, but it was where you could reveal your feelings and fears to other men in an environment that was, ironically, none threatening and none judgemental.

I have no idea if that’s still the case but I know in America it’s not.

Here, you don’t go to a bar to talk, you go to a bar to sit with other men and watch sports.

There appears little outlet for men to express their feelings which means either the pressure of situations add up to unbelievable levels or the response to situations is disproportionate or overly aggressive and confrontational.

OK, so not everyone is like that, but until we teach our children – and especially our little boys – that crying is actually the act of someone strong rather than weak, then we are going to continue stopping people knowing how to navigate the challenges and frustrations that fill our lives. Or said another way, we’ll be stopping our kids from being able to be as good as they can be … which is a crime no parent wants to ever be accused of doing.

Which is another thing we could all learn from the values taught at Otis’ school.


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Where It All Began …
May 23, 2018, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Attitude & Aptitude, Childhood, Comment, Education

Following on from my sentimentally infused post of yesterday, one of my old school friends recently posted this photo on Facebook …

What you’re looking at are all the teachers at my primary school, Heymann.

Now to be honest, I don’t recognise all of the faces, but the others have all left an indelible mark on me.

I appreciate this is of absolutely no value or interest to you, but in the slight possibility that Otis will read this at some point in the future, I’m going to detail my memories of each one so Otis can have a glimpse into his old man’s past.

From the back row, on the right left hand side, we have Ms Clay.

She was – I think – a student teacher. I am pretty sure she was engaged to the guy 3rd from the left. She came with us on our school trip to Whitby [see pic below, with me in a bloody red cagoule] and someone bought some ‘X-Ray Specs’ from a joke shop, convinced we would be able to see her nude. Unsurprisingly, we didn’t.

Next to her was Mr Catchick. The overwhelming memories I have of him is when he made me mop up someone’s vomit in class. I can’t remember why, but I do remember thinking it was terrible. I also remember the rumour his breath smelt of alcohol despite the fact that at aged 7, we were unlikely to know what alcohol smelt like. Then there was the time he sent me to the Headmaster’s room, Mr Dewing, for shouting “Bollocks” very, very loudly in class … even though I didn’t know what the word meant and Mr Dewing had to explain it to me, much to his huge embarrassment.

As I mentioned earlier, the person next to him is – I think – Ms Clay’s fiance, but next to him, like a member of some BritPop band, was sports teacher Mr Fletcher. He never taught me directly, but everyone knew him and when he retired from the school a few years ago, he was inundated with goodbye messages – me included.

Next to him is Mrs Crowe. She was my teacher when I turned 8 and the two overwhelming memories I have of her are that we did a class project on Australia and Canada – which, spookily, is where Jill is from – and that my Mum once came to collect me early and I remember thinking she looked the most beautiful Mum in the World. In another bizarre coincidence, we were flying from Shanghai to London a few years ago and we got talking to the people near us, only to discover they were Mrs Crowe’s nieces.

Last – but not least – on the top row, far right, is Mrs Cohen. She never taught me and I’m so glad because she used to hit people on the knuckles with a wooden ruler. Mind you, Mr Aspinal – who did teach me, but isn’t in this photo for some reason – used to hit people with a slipper, but he was far nicer than Mrs Cohen so I remember feeling a massive sense of relief when I was put in his class rather than hers.

Below her, now going right-to-left, is Mrs Berry – my first ever teacher. She drove a dark purple MGB GT … as cool a car as you could get back then … and was brilliant. She was also my teacher when the school got vandalised, where some kids broke all our pencils, spray painted our playground and killed the school rabbit. Oh, she also is the teacher who decided at the last minute that I should give Rebecca Baldwin my jumper during the school nativity play [where we were both playing animals] resulting in me watching my parents watching Rebecca thinking it was me until the very end. To say they were shocked when we removed our masks is quite the understatement.

Then comes Mrs Terry … the teachers teacher. She was firm but fair though I once caused her to almost have a meltdown with my inability to understand fractions [I’m still rubbish at it]. The other memory I have is that when it was parent/teacher night, she wanted everyone to have their ‘gold star/black mark’ chart updated and because she was so inundated with kids asking her questions, I kept going up to her with a piece of my work that she had graded with a ‘gold star’, and basically managed to get her to give me 5 stars when it should have been 1. This is maybe where my blagging abilities began.

Next to her was Mrs Staples. She taught me after Mrs Berry and was the deputy head. I remember thinking she was the most elegant woman I’d ever seen but that could also be because she didn’t go mad when she found I had decided – at age 6 – the questions in the back of the school books weren’t grammatically correct so I’d used a pen to change them. Before you call me a cheeky bastard, I did it because Paul, my best mate, was having reading issues and I didn’t want him to feel bad so blamed it on the school.

I have no idea who the other 2 teachers were, but these people – along with Mr Roberts, the school caretaker who lived in a house by the school entrance – were my introduction to education, so we can blame them for why I didn’t go to university.



Everything Good Starts At Home …

As I’ve mentioned many, many times, my parents drilled into me the importance of living a life of fulfillment not contentment.

It took me a long time to truly understand what they meant by that, but when I did, it was a revelation.

It is behind so many of the decisions I’ve made in my life.

From moving to so many different countries.

Starting cynic and Sunshine.

Right through to – hopefully – being the father and husband my wife and son thoroughly deserve.

This last one is especially important.

Not just because I love them and want them to know my love, but because at the end of the day – if the things I’m doing away from them doesn’t ultimately benefit them, it’s a waste of time.

When I was a child, my Dad would tell me why it was so important to love the work you did.

His basic premise was that if you’re going to be away from your family so much because of work, you better be doing something you love because nothing would be so insulting than to be away from them doing a job you hated.

That has stuck with me and while I’ve never hated any of the companies I’ve worked for – I’m always aware that once I have more bad days than good [or, in the case of Wieden, more bad polluted Shanghai days, than good] it’s probably time to start exploring what is out there that intrigues me.

Now, through a bunch of luck, these changes have come with greater titles and responsibilities … and I’ve never minded that, but it’s also never been my core motivation. Not because I don’t have ambitions, but I’ve always found the greatest joy being part of something that creates something.

I used to say that if I was to come back again, I’d love to be an architect because that way I could do work that outlived me … then I had my son.

Being a Dad has been one of the most amazing experiences in my life.

I’m ashamed to admit this was not something I was truly aware of, initially.

But now, thanks to the brilliance of my wife, I am able to see that I have helped bring something into the World that will outlive me. Something that can [hopefully] be testimony to the values we value and the things we love but with a life all of its own … a life that can grow and be shaped by the possibilities in the future we may never get to witness.

Which is why as much as I want a career that continues to creatively challenge and excite me at the highest level, my most important ambition is to be a husband and Dad that is present, engaged and full of love and support for the people at home.

It might have taken my wife and son to help me truly appreciate that, but I know my parents would be happy that I finally got there.



Kids Today Are Different To Kids Yesterday …

I’ve written in the past how Otis has taken after his dad in terms of loving tech.

An iPad encouraged him crawl at 10 months old.

He uses Alexa to interact with the house.

Youtube is his preferred entertainment channel, which he is incredibly proficient at working his way around … which, given the way they are running things, means we have to pay even closer attention to what he’s doing than ever.

He doesn’t understand why things like the television don’t respond to the same hand gestures as Daddy’s iPhone.

It’s amazing.

But what really blew me away was when a few weeks ago, he called me over to show me this:

Yes, it is a better looking version of me, but the reason I was blown away was he did it.

All of it.

From finding a photo of his Dad … uploading it to an app on his iPad … to editing, creating and playing with the image.

And he’s only three years old.

THREE!

Now I appreciate the technology is more available than in the past and the programs are more user-friendly than in the past … but it still astounds me how much kids can embrace and engage the unknown.

Sure it’s been designed with them in mind – which is testimony to the people behind the app – but for a 3 year old to be able to manipulate photographs astounds me and, with a bit of luck, means the future of the World might be in better hands than those in the present.

Here’s hoping.



A Picture Releases A Thousand Emotions …

It’s Monday.

I know that’s pretty shit for all of us so I thought I’d do something nice for a change.

OK, I’m not really doing any of it … my son is … but if it affects you 1/1000th in the way it affected me, it will make your day a little sweeter.

Otis has a friend called Elodie.

Her parents – by pure chance – are English and we met them at our kids school.

Elodie adores Otis.

And Otis adores Elodie.

They operate at the same speed and frequency and while there’s the odd moment where one of them goes slightly off the rails, their affection for each other is obvious.

A few weeks ago we were all at the beach to celebrate another kids birthday [this is my life now]

Living so close to the beach is a real privilege and even though both kids are there most days, they still act like it’s their first time.

Anyway, we were there for Jack’s 3rd birthday and in-between birthday cake and opening presents, I saw Elodie and Otis walk to the gentle tide.

As they chatted to each other, I followed them from a little distance to give them space to continue playing in their own World when suddenly they did this …

There are many beautiful things in my life that have taken my breath away, but this was one of the most powerful.

Innocent.

Heartfelt.

Friendship.

Which is why as much as that lone surfer in the distance may believe they are riding upon life’s purest joy, I would like to say to them they are wrong and point them to the embrace of my son and his dear Elodie.

I think they would acknowledge I am right.

Happy Monday.

Thank you Otis and Elodie.



A University Ad That Doesn’t Act Like A University Ad. Or At Least Not A Typical One …

University drives me nuts.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a massive fan of education but as I’ve written many times before [ie: here, here and here] they’ve gone from being a place for learning, debate and discussion, to being a place that – according to all their advertising – wants to be a production line for the rich and successful in business.

From we to me, as it were.

The only thing that is worse than this is universities focus on profit rather than learning.

I’ve said this many times, but I find this horrific.

Education is an investment in more than the individual, but the country as a whole.

Their knowledge helps countries grow and prosper, but by governments ignoring that and encouraging Universities to look at what they do in terms of ‘how much can you make out of people’, everyone suffers.

And I include universities in that statement because there will come a time where people realise the value of their degree – especially in comparison to the debt it means they incur – will ultimately make them question if it was worth the effort.

And yet the universities keep pumping out ads saying they’re for the elite.

The next generation of business leaders.

The entrepreneurs and power brokers.

Even though that’s obviously bollocks given how many people go to university versus become the next Zuckerberg etc etc.

Which is why I liked this ad for the University of Pheonix.

Yes it taps into my sentimental bullshit, but I like it because it’s not about supreme business success, but giving you choices.

In a World where working in one industry for the rest of your life is becoming obsolete, the idea of preparing people to be able to adapt is a good one.

Because we are entering a period where for the majority of people, success will be about survival – which is tragic but that’s what happens when Governments view the younger generation as a cost rather than an investment in everyone’s brighter future.



We Are All The Same. We Are All Different.

So for the past 2 days I’ve been writing a lot about equality.

It’s a subject very close to my heart.

To be honest, it always has been but being a Father has raised it’s importance.

In some ways, having Otis grow up in China made things easier as it meant he was exposed to different cultures from day 1 but I didn’t want to take that for granted, so when we knew we were going to move to the US, I spoke to a friend of mine – a Brit, who is black and lives in the US – about the [thankfully small] issues his kids faced being in the US and what he thought parents should teach their kids to stop that happening.

His response was phenomenal.

In essence there were 2 parts.

The first was the obvious one – treat every person from every culture the same way – with respect, appreciation and consideration.

So far so good … but it was the next bit that really made an impact.

Don’t tell Otis different cultures are all the same.

Don’t ‘whitewash’ our differences, acknowledge them … enrich Otis with understanding about different cultures history, struggles and values.

Or said another way … celebrate the differences but treat everyone the same.

Brilliant.

Absolutely brilliant.

In a World where so much hate is built simply on ‘being different’, helping break down those walls through knowledge and understanding is even more powerful than just saying ‘don’t see the colour, see the person’.

Of course it’s vital to treat people the same, but understanding the background isn’t just a mark of respect – it’s a way to celebrate strengths and understand behaviours that you may otherwise judge for no other reason than your own in-built prejudices.

So among Otis’ books on animals and dinosaurs and Peppa fucking Pig, he has books that explore the cultures associated with Africa [‘Africa Is Not A Country’ & ‘Sundiata’], Mexico [‘Tequila Worm’] and the Middle East [‘My Fathers Shop’].

Now I appreciate some people may think we are going a bit over-the-top with this.

After all, Otis is only 2 and a half.

But, as I have written before, I’ve learnt not to care what others think.

I’ve learnt people often mistake being a parent with being an ‘expert’ on kids.

I’ve also learnt kids develop so many of their behaviours by being masters of mimicking how their parents behave.

[Jill hopes she can stop him fall victim to ironic t-shirts and Birkenstocks]

At the end of the day, we believe we have a responsibility to him – and society as a whole – to encourage the values and beliefs that can enable him to be a good human being … someone who doesn’t just contribute to society in terms of what he achieves, but in terms of what he helps others achieve.

Of course we know he will face challenges.

Peer pressure. Unexpected circumstances. The allure of mischief.

And while we can’t dictate how he handles those things, we hope we can prepare him to deal with them in a way where he can hold his head high … which is why on top of being loving, supporting parents, we will buy him books on understanding different cultures, give him dolls to play with and encourage him to play with his beloved pink kitchen.

Being a Father is one of the most amazing things that has happened in my life.

I feel embarrassed to admit I had no idea how good it would be … and while being a good parent is basically a matter of trying things with good intent, I want to say a big thank you to Karrelle Dixon … because he may not realise it, but he made a big difference to how my little boy will grow up. Not in terms of respect, but in terms of understanding … and when you think about it, that’s one of the most wonderful gifts you can give anyone.

I hope my parents would think we’re doing good with their grandson.

I think they would.