William Mager: An open letter to my son

Posted on March 9, 2012

Happy one-month birthday, little man.

We’ve figured out a lot in the first 28 days – which nappies work best (Pampers), how to get you to sleep (stroking your forehead), how to burp you (leaning you forward at 20 degrees and patting your upper back), and which music you like (The Singing Detective soundtrack)

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Cathy and I have so many more things to figure out in the next few weeks, months, years. We need some sort of game plan so that you grow up to be the best person you can possibly be. So I’m writing you an open letter, a memo, a mission statement.

I don’t always have all the answers. Sometimes I’ll contradict myself. Sometimes I’ll say things that don’t make complete sense. Yet, at the same time, I’m always right. Always. The only person more right than me is your mother.

I’ll always protect you, as much as I can, from the sadness and the badness of life, until eventually you have to discover all the sadness and the badness for yourself. When you do, I’ll be there to pick you up, dust you off and get you back on your feet every time you need picking up, dusting off and getting back on your feet.

The best analogy for this is that you’re a little jaguar cub in a tree, the bad things in life are a random tribesman hiding in the same tree, and I’m the angry tree jaguar. Except we won’t be hiding in trees, but you know what I mean.

I will reduce the number of pictures I post of you on the internet, on twitter and on facebook. No pictures of you topless in the bath, no pictures of you dressed in a Mexican Wrestler costume.

I even promised myself that I wouldn’t post any pictures of you when you were born, but I was so overcome with love and adoration for you that I did anyway. No more! From now on I’ll only describe our family life through the medium of cat photos and videos, starting with this open letter.

Billy and Barnaby, after a long day

Don’t play with illegal Chinese bangers in a cemetery; do not have airgun duels with your friends in an abandoned mental asylum; do not attempt to rebuild a motorbike engine in the cellar; do not attempt to assemble a bomb using a tennis ball and 1,000 caps. Your father did all of the above as a child and survived unscathed. That doesn’t mean you have to.

Try to avoid using the internet, email, twitter, facebook, or whatever their equivalents may be 18 years from now. Prioritise face-to-face interaction with other human beings over computer screens. If that’s not possible then roam the wasteland in a tricked out Ford Falcon V8 interceptor with a faithful dog for company. Your middle name Max may come in handy here.

Don’t watch too much television. I gather that Peppa Pig and Octonauts are all the rage amongst you youngsters, but we’re going to try and limit how much you watch. We want you to do other stuff. Like reading, playing in the nursery, going for walks and helping us to make apple crumble. Then when you’re 18 we’ll let you watch The Singing Detective. Well, you like the music so much…

I’ve thought long and hard about what your first film should be. I’ve finally decided it should be Raiders of the Lost Ark but I will cover your eyes and give you a hug when the film comes to the scary melty face bit. Then we can watch Singin’ in the Rain, Casablanca, Spirited Away and Drive (I’ll cover your eyes at the lift scene).

Don’t play with touchscreen devices like iPads and iPhones until you’re old enough to understand other gadgets too. You don’t want to end up like this, trust me:

At some point – I don’t know when – you’re going to realise that you’re a bit different from your mum and dad, in that you can hear a bit better (OK, a LOT better) than us. This gives you an advantage over us. But use it wisely, young one. Use it wisely.

Don’t be our hearing aid. On long car journeys, please don’t tell us about every single noise that the car is making. Every squeak, rattle or screaming of a buggered clutch is a fact of life. We can do nothing about it, any more than we can do anything about the purple-faced motorist shouting abuse at us from the next lane of traffic.

The same goes for the noises in the old Victorian house we currently inhabit, whether it’s mice under the floorboards, a train going by, a boiler slowly dying on its backside. We don’t always hear those noises clearly, we didn’t give a damn about those noises for the last 30 years, and we aren’t going to start giving a damn now.

Tell us about fun things instead. Like the funny noise the cat is making when it’s about to be sick, the helicopter flying overhead, a song that you really like, anything that’s new and exciting and helps us to forget about the crushing despair of everyday life.

The ONLY exceptions to the above are fire alarms, the screams of someone being murdered in the street, and the microwave beeping. That stuff matters, I guess. If it’s a threat to life and health, or it’s preventing you sleeping, then tell us about it.

On second thoughts, never mind. Just tell us everything you hear. We love you anyway, dammit.

Don’t let people label you. Some might want to call you a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults). Or maybe HMFD (Hearing, Mother/Father Deaf). Don’t let them. The only labels you need to worry about are on the clothes you wear, or on the back of that bottle of methylated spirits you’re thinking about trying (don’t do it!).

That’s not to say that being a child with deaf parents will hold you back in any way. It doesn’t. Lon Chaney was the man of a thousand faces, and two deaf parents. Some even won Oscars, like Louise Fletcher (Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest), who thanked her parents in sign language.

To my mother, and my father, I want to say thank you for teaching me to have a dream. You are seeing my dream come true.”

You’re going to learn that your parents need to see your face when you’re talking, so that we can lipread you. Soon after that you’re also going to figure out that you can deliberately angle your head away from us so that we can’t see what you’re saying. You will subsequently realise it’s a quick and easy way to get one over on us.

If you choose to do that, that’s fine. But that’s not the way to win an argument, or to get an extra helping of ice cream. As my son, I want you to use the tools of rhetoric, intonation, gesture, and unassailable logic to win arguments. Then you’ll get two extra scoops of Rocky Road. Actually, I’m lying. You’ll never win an argument against me or your mother, but by all means give it your best try.

You can be anything you want to be. Be a plumber, be a Karate master, be a jet pilot, be an electrician, be a pro gamer, be an actor, be a politician, be a lawyer, be an international jewel thief. But don’t, whatever you do, become a sign language interpreter. At least not until you have the necessary qualifications.

You may find that from the age of four or five people in shops, garages and doctor’s surgeries start asking you to ‘tell your mum and dad…’ instead of talking directly to us. Resist. You might instinctively start answering the phone for us. Resist. You might feel you need to interpret the conversation when we’re having to explain to the nice policeman why you’ve been out past your bedtime. You don’t have to.

We don’t want you to feel you have to do a job for us, way before legal working age. There might be times when it’s necessary and unavoidable, but your mother and I are going to work damned hard to make sure those times are few and far between.

Most importantly of all – one day you’ll find yourself on your knees in front of me, your eyes bloodshot and bleary, your sanity at breaking point, your dignity at an all-time low, begging for salvation.

I’ll smile knowingly before gently taking your newborn baby from your arms, and telling you to get some much needed sleep…

I think that just about covers everything. Good luck, my son. You’re going to be a real success, whatever you choose to do.

– Your Loving Father

Was there anything important I missed out? Does the above make me sound like I’m going to be a terrible dad, or a perfect father? Am I being unrealistic in limiting TV and internet use? Is it all just an impossible dream?

Is there any other parenting advice you can give to me for the next 18 years? Tell me in the comments. I’d really, really appreciate it.

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