Opinion with Matthew Munson: When your child is way cooler than you

Life of Bryan and Matthew

I’m not a cool cat, nor am I top dog, hip, or the bee’s knees (can you tell that my father has been teaching my son some new words – that’s all I’ve heard this week); trendy or cool, I am not. My son, of course, is the total opposite; he has a lot more social confidence than me, which will put him in good stead during his life, I suspect.

It’s fun to watch a child develop their social life; the complexities of a child’s life, where they try and establish their place with friends, is exhausting. I am rather alarmed to note that I left school 22 years ago (how is that possible? Oh, yes, I’m nearly 40), and I was never a member of any “cool” group – or, I must be honest, did it ever occur to me that I should be. I had a small group of friends at high school and that was enough for me; we talked about things that others might consider nerdy, but there’s nothing wrong with nerdy.

When Bryan talks about his friends, I am off in an entire new world; we have moved on so much in the intervening two decades that I struggle to keep up. The internet – that strange, amorphous “thing” which connects us all every second of every day – wasn’t on my radar. Nowadays, online safety is necessary, and when different children use the internet in different ways – where some kids play Fortnite, for example – it’s on me to explain to Bryan what it’s all about.

Kids are always moving, and dancing and sport helps them burn through their energy; I can’t dance to save my life (which doesn’t bother me), and I have no interest in sport. Bryan’s interest in dancing allows him to meet new people (when lockdown finally permits again – his classes have moved online more times than I’ve been able to count) and make new friends, as do his swimming lessons. He’s also currently interested in football in a light way; playing kick abouts with his friends at all has temporarily (I hope) captured his interest, and I lay in wait for the inevitable question each weekend – “Daddy, please can we have a kick about?” Oh, god, must we?

There will always be those who believe that everyone should do what they want and act how they tell you to act – and when that doesn’t happen, the bullying begins. It is something that has existed throughout time and doesn’t stop after childhood – but it’s something that most children might see, if not experience, and that’s so sad.

I was bullied as a teenager, but my school (torn down now) were surprisingly brilliant about it; they dealt with the bullies swiftly and without delay – it was everything I could have hoped for. I don’t tolerate bullies in any for, and I want to teach Bryan that it’s not right; he deserves to be treated with respect, and a father’s instincts inevitably come into play – which I had to both listen to and keep in check. A balance between boisterous play and something more can be a challenge to unpick, perhaps, but bullies are a lot more ingenious than using their fists. Bryan and I talk about it sometimes, and I always teach him that he is worthy of respect.

Being a parent to a child who is far cooler than you is interesting; he teaches me things so often, and without realising it, that I am left breathless. Because I was something of a nerd growing up (what am I saying – I’m still a nerd, and proud of it), that influenced how I experienced my childhood; of course it did, there’s nothing wrong with that. Because Bryan moves through the world in his own way – with experiences available to him that weren’t around when I was a child – I have to catch myself sometimes and think about how different we are in some ways, as well as how similar we are in others.

I can’t teach him to be me; I need to give him the moral code that allows him to be the person he is so that he can be the cool kid I know he is. I’m exhausted, but what a privilege.