“If you could be any animal in the world, what would it be?”
I was asked this question by Bryan’s sister this weekend (we’ve been out of Thanet visiting his wonderful brother and sister over the last couple of days); after a couple of minutes thought, I decided that I would like to be an owl. After all, I noted, they’re meant to be wise, and I’d like to be wise. What about you, I asked – what animal would you be? The reply was immediate.
“A killer pig, Matthew.”
I considered that, and it seemed entirely reasonable. I relayed this to her mum, and she nodded sanguinely – she was consistently in favour of the killer pig, because it was strong and powerful and, I imagine, didn’t take any nonsense off anyone.
I love kids for their directness. They are genuinely interested in everyone’s favourite animal or monster or dinosaur, and they want to find out the coolest, most unusual things about our world. They’re natural explorers, scientists, and teachers; Bryan has brought home maths problems that normally go in one ear and out the other, but he loves maths and science – and, for a couple of brief (and exquisitely joyous) moments, I’ve understood a couple of the concepts when he’s explained them to me. I seem to be incapable of retaining the information, however, so helping him with his homework in later years is going to be rather stressful.
But I reflect on the last eighteen months and realise how much I’ve learnt; parenting is not an exact science, and I’ve made mistakes like we all do. I look back and pick apart some of my decisions, thinking; “Why on Earth did I choose that path instead of this one?” But, of course, I can’t change what has already passed; I can only work hard to ensure I don’t do it again.
Becoming a parent to a child with some already-formed views, and experiences from previous lives, is fascinating; you get to see the world of their early years through their eyes, and what they liked about different things. I’m fortunate, in that Bryan has siblings who live with a wonderful couple in another part of the country, and I’ve been able to have so many conversations with their parents about raising adopted children – the intensity, the joy, and the sheer love we have for them. It was such fun to watch them all play this weekend so intently and with such unadulterated laughter; Bryan even got to play in a hot tub, and now that’s the best thing since sliced bread. I did offer to steal their hot tub, but Bryan was horrified (thinking I was serious) and insisted it stay in situ for his siblings. Okay, I thought, there’s something else I’ve learnt; never joke about stealing their hot tub – Bryan will get cross!
Becoming a father wasn’t something I ever intended to do when I was in my twenties; I had no concept of the world beyond my own needs and lifestyle. At 39, I can’t imagine anything else; I heard it described once as “putting your life on hold”, but I disagree; this is a new phase in my life when I get to share it with a funny, strong-willed, and insightful young man – yes, there might be certain things I can’t do right now, but that’s not putting my life on hold, that’s a choice I’ve made to prioritise something particular right now. Family. And, the things I really want to do outside being a father – writing, studying, work – will find a way to fit in with that lifestyle.
But tell me – what animal would you be if you had the choice?