Thoughts on becoming a dad for the second time
Last week, a colleague told me over breakfast about how his son had been selected as head of house – a senior position of responsibility in his final year of high school. The dad was immensely proud (as any dad should be), and I overheard him on two other occasions later in the week recounting the news to other colleagues. Another colleague with kids slightly older than my (almost) fifteen-year-old son Tom, also gives regular updates about the amazing academic and sporting prowess of his two boys.
Come to think of it, one doesn’t hear much other than the “great” achievements from one’s colleagues. So do all my colleagues have über-achieving kids, or are the parents of the average and under-average kids just really quiet at the office?
On Tuesday I spent the morning at Tom’s boarding school for the parent-teacher meetings held each term. Tom’s school is in the charming Eastern Cape town of Grahamstown – which is a 90-minute flight plus a 90-minute drive from Jozi. When I arrive just after 9, the teachers are arranged at numbered desks around the main school hall. On arrival, I’m handed a map of where to find each of Tom’s teachers, and then it’s three hours of mayhem, as parents jostle and queue to get a few minutes with each of their kid’s teachers, hoping to hear glowing reports of academic brilliance.
Now for some reason, as I walk into the hall, I feel as if I’m a schoolboy again and a mild panic comes over me, which is silly really, as I’m older than half the teachers now. I was a geek at school – so my parents typically got great academic report-backs from my teachers – so it’s not even that I have traumatic memories of parent teachers day…
The panic is performance anxiety – I want so badly to hear good news of Tom’s academic progress.
Now Tom is a bright kid. All the teachers say so, and they have for years. If only he’d apply himself. If only he’d pay more attention. If only he’d be less of a class clown. If only he’d handed in the work (on time, or at all) – then his marks would be better. And for the last year it’s been getting worse. The parent-teacher meetings a term ago were the all-time low of Tom’s academic under-achievements. So Tom has been in academic “intensive care” for the last few months, with a lot hanging on the outcome of last Tuesday’s meetings.
Last term, we tried the “carrot” approach. If Tom’s marks improved, then we would double up whatever pocket money he had saved as spending money for our family holiday. Sadly, the marks did not improve – so there was no double up.
This term was the “stick” approach. If there wasn’t a marked improvement in the feedback from the teachers on Tuesday, then Tom would have to give up rowing – the sport he loves at school. Rowing takes up a lot of Tom’s time, but is a good healthy physical outdoor team sport, and good for Tom’s overall personal growth (so not something I really wanted to make him stop – which in retrospect makes it a quite a bad “stick” to use!). So more than anything, I wanted to hear good things from the teachers on Tuesday.
The 5-minute meetings are like a bit like I imagine speed dating to be. Sit down. Introduce yourself. Hope it goes well…
In the past, I’ve enjoyed watching each teacher try and figure out which of the many kids he or she teaches is your one (Some are better than others at this. Some have a crib sheet with photos of each student and their names. Others talk quite generally without getting into too many specifics. Some of the honest ones tell me they’re “still getting to know the class.”) But because we’ve all been closely monitoring Tom’s progress, this time they all know who Tom is.
The first teacher I sit with is “very pleased”. I hear “marked improvement” and “he deserves a pat one the back”. I blink back tears of pride and relief. My expectations rise, I feel a pang of excitement. The next teacher is also positive. More blinking. And the next. Blink blink. I’m holding my breath as (much later, and after too many “not worth the calories” school canteen cakes in between) I get to the last teacher on the list. And she too gives positive feedback about his much more mature approach to class. The summary is that although he’s not yet performing to his full potential, they all acknowledge a huge improvement in attitude and effort (and all believe that improved marks will follow). I’m over the moon.
I feel the same pride and relief that Felix Baumgartner’s family must have felt last week. And the same pride and happiness that my colleagues with their “top of the class, top of the sports-field” kids feel. It’s a humble achievement – but one that we’ve worked so hard for, and I’m just so happy that Tom is moving in the right direction again.
Of course if Tom was top of his class, or the champion rower in the country – of course I’d be telling my colleagues about it! But even then, I don’t think I would or could be any more filled with pride than I am today.
This article was first published on http://www.mommymatters.co.za