Opinion with Matthew Munson: The question of exactly when you become an adult

Matthew and Bryan

Bryan asked me a question that really made me think this week; when did I first start thinking of myself as an adult? I had to think hard about that, because my memory is a little hazy with the passage of time.

I remember being really focused on 18; the age I could legally vote and drink, and the age society puts a lot of emphasis on – as if we have a child-like mindset the day before, and suddenly mature into an adult the day after. If it were that simple, I think I’d be delighted; having a clear dividing line between the two states of being would have allowed me to answer the question far more easily.

But as I explained to Bryan, it was more of a gradual process, and other people experience it differently; some mature faster than others. I’m 40, and I still have to remind myself occasionally that I’m no longer 12 – my knees and back do most of the reminding, sadly. But I matured more gradually, and actually spent my twenties determined that fatherhood was not in my future – it wasn’t for me.

Bryan was intrigued by that, and asked when I changed my mind; again, I had to confess that there wasn’t any one particular day. As I spent more time around children, and found that I actually enjoyed their company, I began to take a look at myself and whether I could take that step up to a parent figure. It probably wasn’t until my mid-thirties that I felt properly ready to begin the process.

I’ve been reliably informed by Bryan that he wants to be a father when he’s older … and then the following day he didn’t … and then the day after, he was on the fence. I reassured him that he didn’t have to make a decision on that just yet, nor did he have to elect a particular day when he himself was going to become an adult; it’ll happen gradually. He didn’t seem totally satisfied with that answer, I must confess, but it was the best I could do under very trying circumstances.

Questions are a normal part of family life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. He has learnt, it seems, not to ask me to solve any maths questions; I struggled with that subject at school, and thankfully, his teacher is far better qualified. When Bryan explains his workings to me, I nod and make the appropriate noises of agreement in what I hope are the right places, and then sincerely hope that he never asks me any follow-up questions.

I was incredibly proud of him this week (as I am every week) when I got a glowing report about his learning and behaviour at a parent / teacher consultation. It was wonderful to hear about his grades, but equally about his behaviour and manners; that matters so much to me, that he’s kind and thoughtful and well-mannered. His foster carers were equally passionate about that, thank heavens, so I could just build on their good work; we are always discussing good manners, courtesy, and respect. I am often saying that, as long as he shows all of those things, then he’s going to do well in life – and I also remind him often that he’s entitled to expect that from others.

When I recently experienced a bit of bad service in a shop, I realised quite how vigilant I’d made Bryan on manners when he exclaimed, “Daddy, you should say something. You said I should tell someone if I see rudeness!” To be fair, he was right; I’ve said to him that he should tell me – but who should I tell? My mum? It’s a thought, certainly …

But I like Bryan asking me things and reminding me of discussions we’ve had; it shows that he’s interested in the world around him and wants to understand it. What a brilliant place for his head to be in.