Mar 26

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It has been suggested that to be successful as a teacher you need to be able to drink three cups of coffee before 8.00am and keep it in the system until after 5.00pm.  To be successful as a teenage boy is rather more demanding.  It requires:

­    The body of a Greek God (usually male)

­    The sporting ability of an Olympian (preferably without steroids)

­    The mind of Einstein (but without the hair)

­    The sex appeal of whoever is going out with Kylie Minogue

­    The social charm of Casanova

­    And the wealth of the average banker before the Global Financial Crisis

All this can be a touch daunting for the average boy struggling with ‘C’ grades, uncoordinated limbs, a mumbled conversation limited to football and a propensity to blush in the company of a girl.  He might also be struggling with acne and a Facebook page devoid of any female friend who could be remotely be considered a ‘prize’.

Heaping coals on the head of the average youth is the implicit expectation that they should do at least as well as their parents, and probably better.  As a teen, I distinctly remember being in awe of the fact that my parents had learnt how to drive a car, got reasonable jobs and had saved enough ‘moullah’ to secure a modest home.  Furthermore, their dinner conversation was made up of the relaxed banter of those who had read well, traveled a bit and knew a thing or two about contemporary literature.  How had they done it? I was flat out learning the road rules for my ‘L’ plates, holding down a part-time gardening job and buying myself the latest Hendrix offering. And I knew sweet nothing about foie gras. Evidently, it’s not a form of artificial grass!

A boy can be overwhelmed by the task of growing up. Comfort is not provided by schools with, ‘The Future is Unlimited’ sorts of mottos (usually in Latin). Neither do schools help when they wheel in a steady procession of inspirational speakers who have all sorted themselves out and become famous. As a boy in 4B (the bottom grade), I found it all rather depressing. School prizes won in my early teens were limited to a dictionary given at Speech Night. I think it was, ‘For trying’.

There are some quite well-known anecdotes, reflections and pithy sayings that can be shared with a son struggling with the ‘Will I ever make it?’ question.  Chief of these is the poem, Success which has been attributed (wrongly) to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Here, in a slightly adapted format is one of the best definitions of what success is.


To laugh often and much;

To win the respect of intelligent people

and the affection of children;

To earn the appreciation of honest critics

and endure the betrayal of false friends;

To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;

To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child,

A garden patch or a redeemed social condition;

To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.

This is to have succeeded.

Other literary gems exist such as Rudyard Kipling’s If. But, there’s there problem … ‘If’.  It implies a condition, a prerequisite, an obligation to do something if the prize is to be bestowed.  This can be an uncomfortable truth for our sons.  Attainment is elusive, except, perhaps, in the home where superlatives from well-trained parents can be heard – even for performance that is quite modest.

Unfortunately, outside of the home, the judges are harder, and their grades are less generous – unless undisputed genius is displayed.  For this reason, a son needs to be encouraged in the home but not to the extent that mediocrity is adulated. The world can ill afford to have its ranks swelled by little princes who think the world beyond the front door adores them.  Therefore, a parent must tread that difficult path between encouragement and exhortation; between, ‘Well done’ and, ‘I think you can do better’.

Best of luck with it all.

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