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


Society Is Growing Kids Faster Than Battery Hens …

One of the things that is a beautiful nightmare for parents is watching the speed of their children grow up.

At each stage of their development, you think they have reached ‘peak perfect’ and you want them to stay that way forever … but you can deal with their growth because they bring an even more delightful element into their behaviour and, as a byproduct, your relationship.

It’s utterly, utterly magical.

That said, it still doesn’t stop the fact it all happens in the blink of an eye, so while you want to always encourage their development, you just wish it would slow down a little.

The reason I say this is that I recently read about a graphic designer was so appalled at the cover of a young girls magazine, that they decided to release what they thought it should be.

Now I must admit, my first impression to this story was that the graphic designer was probably a self-righteous individual who wanted kids to grow up in the same conditions as they did.

That was until I saw this …

The original cover of the magazine is on the left, their version is on the right.

I’m going to ignore their cover – because you can read how it came about and the story behind their idea, here – however the magazine they redesigned is a real magazine and, according to their own website, supposedly stands for:

Girls’ Life (GL) magazine was founded in August 1994 (yes, we’re ancient, we know) by Karen Bokram. Since then, GL has grown from a 23-year-old’s pipe dream project to a best-selling and award-winning platform for tween and teen girls.

Tweens and teens.

An incredibly impressionable age.

Now look at that cover.

Look at those story headlines.

Now I appreciate I am an old, white male … but they seem to place huge subliminal pressure and expectations on young women.

Wake Up Pretty.

Dream Hair.

Fashion you need to own.

Boyfriends.

If young women want to explore any of those things, then that is wonderful, but I wonder how much of it is because they are being made to feel that way rather than being something they are naturally interested in. Of course, there is something wonderful about learning to develop and grow … but this seems less about personal growth and more about playing to stereotypes – and advertising dollars – so that they can then be judged by broader society.

Of course parents have a big role to play in managing the environment their children play in, but at a time where the World is finally waking up to fighting the prejudice, oppression and stereotypes women have had to face for centuries, it becomes increasingly difficult to achieve this when the World they are surrounded by continues to push an agenda of compliance … especially when they’re titles supposedly designed for the betterment of young women.

Of course this is not limited to content for young women, young boys also have stereotypes of behaviour and aspiration shoved down their throats that are unrealistic and add incredible pressure to their development.

I get children will always grow up too fast for parents, but it is scary how even that isn’t fast enough for media outlets.

What makes it worse is so many of them say their ‘purpose‘ is to inspire brilliance in their readership.

Girls Life specifically say their role is ‘dedicated to informing, inspiring and entertaining girls around the globe—and that includes everything from starting your business (we LOVE spotlighting smart, successful teens) to putting up with periods to styling a personal look you’ll love’.

Which is why I look at the Graphic Designer who screwed with their cover and say ‘well done’ … because I now realise what they did was not act like a judgmental parent, but simply show Girls Life how their cover should look if they are serious about what they claim they represent.

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We Are Family …
September 4, 2019, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Attitude & Aptitude, Comment, Daddyhood, Family, Jill, Mum, Mum & Dad, Otis, Parents

As I wrote yesterday, this is a big week in our household as Otis starts school.

Proper school.

In fact, he starts it in a few hours time.

Yes, today!!!

And while this is going to be a journey that will be filled with excitement and drama … tears and cheers … [and that’s just how his Mum and Dad will be when we wave him off later today] I had a glimpse of what might be in store for him in a way that took my breath away.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how Otis has graduated from preschool.

Well from that day, Otis had this photo taken.

I saw it for the first time recently and I don’t mind telling you it stopped me in my tracks.

Not just because he is in full graduation gear – something his old man didn’t come close to achieving – but because of how much I see traces of my mum and me when we were young.

I wish Mum could see it, she would be chuffed to bits.

Just like I am.



And So It Begins …

It seems literally a few months ago, since I wrote this post announcing Otis had come into the World, but this week, my little man starts school.

I’m not talking kindergarten – that he did in China, America and London – I mean proper school.

Reading … Writing … Arithmetic …

A journey that, in many ways, shapes and defines the future he is going to have.

I can’t believe it …

How did that happen so fast?

I’ve written it before, but seeing your kid grow up is both a blessing and a curse.

It’s a curse because they’re moments in their development where you just want them to stay exactly as they are.

When they are totally reliant on your love.

When they start using sounds to express how they’re feeling.

When you see them experience proper food for the first time.

When they start crawling and edge their way towards you.

Those first few words.

The first conversation.

The first steps.

At every stage, you want that moment to last forever but let it go because as they enter a new phase, there are even more new wonderful things you encounter.

It’s a fast moving train you both want to stop and to keep going exactly as it is.

And this week, the train finds another gear as Otis enters formal education.

I’ve written a lot about my views on this and how I am vehemently opposed to private education.

I don’t believe it should be a profit centre.

I do believe governments should be funding it because ultimately, it’s the foundation for the countries strength and health.

And while I know the school Otis starts tomorrow won’t be the school he finishes in – as we have bought our family home in a totally different area – I do know we intend to let him finally have a place he can feel settled in … a place where he can truly belong … because his Mum and I would like nothing more than him to meet friends that will be there throughout his life.

Like his Dad had with Paul, who are the kids in the picture at the top of this post.

So all that leaves me to say is this …

Enjoy your new adventure Otis.

Your Mum and Dad are so proud for the little boy you are.

And so excited for who you will become.

Love you.



You Never Forget Those Who Never Let You Be Forgotten …

Many years ago I wrote a post called pivotal people.

It was about those individuals who have an incredible impact on how your life turns out.

I’m not talking about family or friends.

I’m not even talking about relationships that last years.

I’m talking about interactions – whether for 10 minutes or a decade – that changes the course of how you live.

I’ve been lucky enough to have had quite a few of these people come into my life – most recently Maya, Bree and Chelsea – and it is important to me they all know the impact they have had – and continue to have – on who I am and what I do.

A long time ago, I decided the best way to show this was to write to them all and say thank you.

Weeks passed without a word from anyone so I emailed one of the recipients to check they had received the letter.

He responded saying he had and wanted to know if I was dying.

Yep … my heartfelt gratitude was met with the general consensus that I must have a terminal illness.

Thankfully I nipped that misconception in the bud, and while the people I wrote to still didn’t really know how to react [to the words in my letter, not the fact I wasn’t dying] the reality is I wasn’t looking for any sort of response or gratitude, I just wanted them to know.

Why?

Because in my experience, the people who go out of their way to help you in this way, do it because they see something in you that maybe you don’t even see.

They want to see you grow because they give a shit about your wellbeing.

But better yet, they do it for no self-serving reason, they just believe in you and who you can be.

It is – in my opinion – one of the most beautiful acts someone can do for another person and yet, in many cases, the people helping don’t even realize the impact they’ve had on you.

I’m writing this because I recently read an interview with the footballer Ian Wright.

He was asked ‘what did he owe his parents’ and he said he owed them nothing as he had done everything for them. He said the person he owed the most was his old school teacher, Mr Pigden.

Looking into it, I learned a story of love, belief and standards.

A story that celebrates teaching in its most powerful form.

Not for grades. But for preparing someone for a fuller life.

You can read the article here, but watch the video, it’s incredibly moving.

You don’t have to be a teacher to be Mr Pigden to someone.

I hope you have recognized yours and act in the same way to someone else.



A Message To My Little Boy …

A friend of mine who is gay is writing a book about how straight people would react if their child told them they were gay.

I wrote this:

If my son turns to me and says he’s gay, I would hug him and tell him I loved him and that I hope he finds someone who makes him happy.

If my son told me he had found a man that made him truly happy, I would hug him and tell him I am so excited for him and can’t wait to meet him.

If my son told me he had met the man of his dreams and told me he wanted to get married, I would probably cry tears of joy and say I am proud

I mean every single word of that … and yet, despite it being 2019, the LGBTQ+ community continue to face constant harassment and exclusion.

This scares me to death because as a parent, I would never want my son to suffer for his sexual preferences. And no one should.

While society has come a long way, we haven’t come far enough which is why being an ally to those who are forced to live in the shadows has never been so important.

You don’t have to become their best friend.

You don’t have to spend all your time together.

But letting them know you see them as a peer and believe in their right to live without oppression will help the progress we’ve made, keep moving forward so that one day, if my child – or yours – announces they are gay, you can celebrate them for being true to who they are rather than worrying about how others will treat them for who they are.



It’s Time …

When Mum died, I inherited the family home.

Despite having not lived there for 20 years, it was still very important place to me.

Not just because Mum left it to me.

Not because my Mum still lived there.

But because it’s where I lived for all of my life – until I moved to Australia – and so the memories in those 4 walls were full of everything important to me from my first 25 years of life.

I have to be honest, the first reaction I had was to hire a security guard and keep things exactly as they were because the thought of selling it was just not going to happen.

Slowly I came round to the idea that a security guard was a bit extreme so I started – slowly – thinking about renting it out.

The thing was, when we had estate agents come check it out, they highlighted that having not been renovated for over 40 years, it needed some major work.

This was really hard for me because by saying it needed renovating, I heard it as ‘the house is not good enough’ … which I then interpreted as ‘the house my Mum loved and lived in, wasn’t good enough for others’.

Of course that’s not what they meant, but my emotions – and need to protect my Mum’s legacy – were very high at that point..

And if that was challenging for me, it got even harder when it got to clearing the house.

We spent a couple of weeks going through photos and possessions so we could identify everything we wanted to give to charity.

While Mum didn’t have expensive things, there were some lovely items which is why the worst thing – almost as bad as losing my Mum – was when I saw the charity people come by with bins and throw everything into them … no care, no consideration, no nothing.

And when I heard them literally smash my Mum and Dad’s wardrobes to smithereens – the things that had held their cliothes for 40 years – I had to leave the house as it was all too much.

But out of this darkness came an idea … an idea that I felt would honour my Mum in terms of the life she lived and the values she believed in.

We found a fantastic set of builders and had the house refurbished from top to bottom.

Removed all the wallpaper.
Plastering all the walls.
New paint everywhere.
New Kitchen.
New Bathroom.
New flooring.
New carpets.
New front door.
Some structural change in the house.

At the end, it was basically a new house and yet with the warmth and love of the old, as exemplified by this note that I wrote in the garage …

But that was only part of paying homage to Mum…

The next step was to find a young family who would love to live there, but couldn’t afford it.

You see our plan was to subsidize the rent – and maintain the gardens my parents loved so much – so a young family would have a chance to raise their kids in the beautiful environment my family gave me.

Of course, when my family bought the house – back in 1970 – the area was very different to what it is today, but zoom forward 40 years and it’s seen as very desirable. Not because it’s posh, but because it’s safe, has a strong community and great schools for all.

To this day, I’m so grateful my Mum and Dad were able to find £100 more than the other buyer or who knows where I would have ended up.

Anyway, by pure chance, we found a family who were sort-of connected to someone Mum once worked with. That was perfect, as it felt even more connected to her.

But what was even better was the mother of this family was Italian, like my Mum.

For the past 4 years we have had this arrangement and everyone has been happy.

But now it is time for a bit of a change.

Not because I want to become a bastard landlord, but because I’m now living in the UK and things are different.

You see part of the reason I wanted to keep the house – apart from the obvious – was that it gave me roots here. It meant I was still connected to where I grew up. That I mattered.

It’s kind-of similar to why we bought a bench for Otis at his school in LA.

Having spent the last 24 years out of England, the house represented a connection to my heritage and that was important.

But now I’m back … and while I don’t know how long for, I see it in terms of long-term rather than short.

On the day before Mum died, she told me she was sorry she wasn’t going to be able to leave me much.

I told her not to think like that and reminded her the love she and Dad gave me made me rich beyond my dreams.

But on top of that, I reminded her she was generously going to leave me her house … a house in a wonderful area … so she could relax knowing she had given her son more than he could ever have imagined.

And that’s why I am ready to let the house go.

Not – as you may think – because I am ready to move forward.

The truth is, I will always miss her and want her in my life.

The reason is because I see a way to use the house to reinforce the role my parents had – and have – in my life.

You see the one thing my parents would have loved to do is help me have a home of my own.

While I have been incredibly fortunate to do this without their assistance, I know that their dream would have been to contribute to that.

Of course they did with the love and support they gave me in life, but to them, providing some cash to do it would have made them feel so happy.

So that’s what they are going to do.

While we are happy in London, the truth is my wife and son need to be surrounded by nature.

Nothing reinforced this than our trip to the farm recently.

So we want to find a home a bit outside of London.

A home Otis can truly settle in.

A home that is our home.

Of course we don’t want to unsettle the tenants and will do all I can to help them – as well as give them as much time as they need to work out what’s next – but selling the house allows us to use that money to help my parents fulfill their dream.

We are incredibly fortunate to be in this position.

We are incredibly grateful to be in this position.

But the idea to have a place that is – for want of a better phrase – our forever home, is hugely enticing.

It will let us put down roots.

Connect to the community in ways we have never done previously.

Build rather than live.

This might sound dramatic and I am not saying we have had it tough in any of the other places we’ve lived or houses we’ve had … but we have also never been in a place where we saw ourselves for the long-term.

Because of that, we have always been looking to what’s next rather than maybe enjoying the moment as much as we could or should.

Of course this isn’t going to happen overnight, but to come to this point of decision represents a landmark for my family and for my grief which is why I am so happy to be home and so happy to look forwards with more security, regardless what the future may bring.

Given my birthday is tomorrow, that’s possibly the best present anyone could have.



Where You Leave Your Heart Is Never Up To You …

I recently was in LA for work.

Being a sentimental sod, I couldn’t help find the time to go visit some of the places that became so important to me – and us – when we lived there.

Hell, I even went to the house of the man who bought my car just so I could see it again.

But of all the places I’ve revisited in LA, visiting Otis’ preschool is the one that made me the most emotional.

This is a place he loved.

Where he met his beloved Elodie.

Where his Mum connected to people who will be life long friends.

Where they were both made to feel they mattered from the second they arrived.

Leaving LA was hard. Not for professional reasons, but for personal.

Yes I was sad to leave people I’d met who had grown to become very important to me, but hardest was taking my wife and son away from a place they had thrived in.

Even though we were only there for approx 18 months, we wanted Otis to always know there was a time this was his home … that leaving didn’t mean he’d disappeared. So we wanted to do a few things for the school of which one of them was ask if we could donate a park bench in Otis’ name, so generations of future kids could play on it and – in some way – get to know the little boy who loved that place so much over 2017/18.

By pure chance, when I was driving past the school – it was a Saturday – I saw they had an event on, so being a cheeky sod, I went in hoping they’d let me see the bench we made.

They welcomed me with absolute open arms and as they let me see the seat we left for Otis, I realized – for the first time – that I’d also left a bit of myself here as well.