Sunday 18 January 2015

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

Roger Taylor once sang "Well, you're just seventeen, all you wanna do is disappear/You know what I meant, there's a lot of space between your ears".

Guess what. My son just turned seventeen recently. Hopefully he won't want to "disappear" any time soon but I know he has a lot of  "space between his ears". What goes on there, I've tried to fathom over the years but the reality is that I'm none the wiser. Which is the way it should be sometimes.

As I was looking at him the other night I thought of an old column I wrote about a trip he and I undertook almost eight years ago. It was the first time he and I were going to be on our own. The trip was organised by our local branch of the Woodcraft Folk and... Well, read my account below, first published in September 2007 and then reprinted a couple of years later. And now, almost eight years later I am posting it again before my beautiful almost-man "disappears" into adulthood.

The coach finally got underway a quarter of an hour later than planned. The sun, streaming through the windshield, bifurcated the vehicle in two. I remained in the section kissed by it. I read my book whilst my son talked to his friend J. My son. It was the first time that father and son would be on a holiday together, although only for a weekend. To me it felt like a rite of passage, like a secret fraternity that we both suddenly found ourselves in. Father and son. The phrase, cliche-tainted, had never occurred to me before. After all, we've always been a compact family together and I try to not make distinctions between son and daughter, age gap and gender notwithstanding. As the coach smoothed down the A406 eastbound, I suddenly thought of Steve Biddulp's book 'Raising Boys'. 'Sport offers a boy a chance to get closer to his father, and to other boys and men, through a common interest they might otherwise lack'. Well, this was our chance. Woodcraft Folk had arranged a whole weekend full of activities at Shadwell. These included kayaking and canoeing. I was looking forward to seeing my son interacting in a different medium almost on his own.

We arrived at the centre just after eight and immediately we were shown our sleeping quarters. These consisted of nothing more than a long room where we had to lay our sleepings bags and mats. Boys and men would sleep in this room, whilst women and girls would take over another room opposite to ours. The excitement coursing through our bodies was palpable to all present there. Games were produced, pizzas were cooked and the joie de vivre did not leave us until the small hours when I finally realised that I had to pump both my son and mine sleeping mattress and steer him to bed. The latter was difficult to achieve as he was high on energy but once he fell in the bed brought to life by me, but deficiently, Orpheus cuddled him and fed him the beautiful dreams we all want our offspring to have. I watched him in silence as his tiny curls moved hither and thither and suddenly it dawned on me that I was the happiest father in the world. I was witnessing innocence asleep. I kissed him on his forehead and sneaked into my own sleeping bag on my very deficient and below par mattress.

The morning found me in high spirits. In the absence of curtains in the room where we were sleeping, we were all woken up by a sun curious to know how our night had been. My son was playing cards with his friend J on his bed and upon seeing me awake he jumped onto my mattress and gave me a huge hug. After my morning exercises we both helped make breakfast for everyone in the centre. Later it was time to get in the water and I could not wait to see him donning his wetsuit and manoeuvring his kayak. After an introductory session from his tutor, who turned out to be a very no-nonsense kind of fellow, all the children went into the water. Bar a few mishaps at the beginning, he got the hang of it pretty soon. At some point they formed a circle and watching him laughing and so full of mirth I was compelled to ask myself: 'How am I turning out as a father?' And more pressing, how am I turning out as a father to a boy? Questions that could look lofty and pretentious for some take on a special meaning when you are born in a different country and the colour of your skin seems to be an excuse for abuse rather than mere pigmentation. Black, Afro-Caribbean fathers have long had a stigma attached to them that makes it hard to argue for individual analysis rather than the lump-them-all-under-the-same-umbrella dissection. As my son spun around on his kayak and joked endlessly (without falling in the water once) I wondered what my expectations were when I was his age. True, we look at our childhood through the eyes of nostalgia and melancholy most of the time. Sometimes with rage, sometimes with candour. But we always look back. What we don't do, what we can never do, is look at the present as we're living it. On the one hand we lack the capacity to apply many of the concepts we'll develop in later years to our infantile understanding of the world. On the other hand, even if we were to question the functionality of our surroundings, we would need a catharsis to effect change. My father never played with me, there was never a throw-around with a baseball, or a kick-about with a football. It was piano from the age of five, school homework to be completed by the end of the day and a strict system at home in order to attain academic achievement. In a way my son's own short life so far has mirrored mine, piano from an early age, good reading skills and an avid reader, good sportsman, talkative, confident, shy at times. During that weekend at the Shadwell Centre, two of the three girls there took to playing with his curls and sought him out more often than his mate J. This demonstrated his social skills and his popularity with people. Everyone was amazed at his bilingual abilities. I could see myself in that nine-year-old. Even down to his overbearing Dad. Am I? Yes, it pains me to admit, but yes. I am. But the main reason is that I love him, I love him to bits and when the time came to jump into the water and get soaked, he wouldn't do it at first (who knows, stage-fright maybe?), until I re-assured him that it would be OK, that he could, that he would love it. And he did. He just did. And I was laughing. And so was he.

On the way back we occupied the same seats, with the sun playing shadow play. Its illuminated backdrop was the perfect setting for us opaque moving images. My son was reading a book in Spanish before turning to his mate J to pick up the thread of the conversation they'd left unfinished back at the centre. I listened in whilst pretending to read (I swear I can do both) and the innocent tone of it brought back memories of chats under mango trees in my uncles' and aunties' when I was a teeny weenie prepubescent boy. It brought back the smell of September mornings in Cuba as summer still lingered behind for a little sleep-in but autumn was already announcing its grand entrance. There were not coming-of-age ceremonies over that weekend at Shadwell, no titanic feats to accomplish, but on that late summer afternoon and on the two days that preceded it, my son and I grew to the same height together, hand in hand, together.
Copyright 2007

Next Post: "Urban Diary", to be published on Wednesday 21st January at 11:59pm (GMT)


  1. Nice memories. It is a great joy that has hints of sadness which we experience as we watch our children grow into adults.

  2. hopefully he remembers that son is 12 and on his 13th birthday i want to do a trip just the two of us to mark that transition toward adulthood...i remember the one i took with my dad, canoeing, mountain climbing, white water....

  3. A great memory to always keep indeed as he grows and soon will be tackling the big bad world

  4. Wonderful. It was a journey for both of you, Cuban, one your son will also remember with great fondness. I am pleased you shared the experience again. Thank you.

  5. Beautiful! This would make a wonderful gift.. all printed up for his 21st birthday - ten years after the event.

    We all tend to wonder if we're doing it right. If your boy is anything like you, in years to come, he'll confirm that you are indeed.

  6. Buenos recuerdos de los que siempre hay que recordar, los hijos vuelan en un momento pero vuelven a los padres, siempre lo vas a tener junto a ti.
    Un abrazo.

  7. nice.. such together times are so precious... i was on a holiday with just my girls once and it was very special and precious for all of us

  8. Magic. A memory to hug to yourself, and to take out and warm your hands at its blaze on dark or uncertain days...

  9. What lovely father-and-son times! I recall the daughters at 17 and sometimes it was a bit of a challenge - that's when these early memories are vital. They are growing from the child you loved into an adult you will love, and it all takes a bit of getting used to!

  10. Super sweet! Many congratulations on getting him up. Seventeen and still, it seems, close. So nice. You should both feel proud. Thanks. K.

  11. Outlawyer is me Manicddaily from wordpress. K

  12. This post immediately brought these words into my mind: "Of course, you cannot understand me. We belong to two different generations." Perhaps, that is a bit different translation than the usual of the words from Ivan Turgenev's novel, "Fathers and Sons," but it serves my point and purpose.

    I think, after reading your post, CiL, it is safe to predict such words or thoughts will never pass between you and your boy.

    So, congratulations on producing an enjoyable post and producing (with the help of your wife) a young man who sounds like a gem of a son and great guy.

  13. son is 22 and I'm still mostly unable to fathom what goes on in the space between his ears!
    But it is that unspoken bond between parent and child that overrides the "generation gap" and lives on in both memories...that closeness that will never disappear, even when communication seems strained...that is all that really matters.
    And this precious bond is what I see here.
    And it brought a tear to my eye!

    Thank you so much for a truly moving post :)

  14. Beautiful column full of loving memories - the bond between you two seems strong. I think that it will survive the next couple of years as he moves into the world outside the family. The older he gets, the more he will realize what a great father he had.

  15. Coffee, music, reflection. That's how our mornings should be. In a perfect world. :)

  16. My son is now 26 (I wonder how he grew up so fast! Our kids tend to do that (in a blink of an eye.)
    I treasure all the memories we have made together (and I so miss 'my little boy')
    It was lovely to read this ... lovely memories!

  17. Hello, a very interesting post.

    I have three sons and all the time I worried about their future when they were young.. Now they are all grown up, well settled and two of them are married. I also have a grandson two years old.

    There are many interesting stories I could recollect when they were young. I remember before every Christmas they would write letters to Santa Claus and give them to me for posting. This helped me to find out what they want and just before Christmas eve I will buy the presents and hide them all over the house. When we came home after the midnight mass they will run all over the house looking for the presents which Santa had brought. The excitement, shrieks, laughter are things I can never forget.

    I also remember I used to go for a walk around the block in the evenings. One by one they will join me for one round and each one them will tell me some story as we walked.

    I used to read them stories of Sherlock Holmes in the night.

    I can recount innumerable stories like this. But before I could realize what was happening they all grew up, spread their wings and flew away.

    Their growing up days were truly wonderful days for me. I terribly miss those little children of mine.

    Best wishes

  18. Our time with our children is so important. My kids are teens as well and it can be really challenging. I'm glad you're savoring the moments.

  19. He is a great kid. Now, if only he remembered to put the recycling out without being told! :-)

    Greetings from London.

  20. Lovely account of your trip together, both physical and spiritual. Thanks for sharing such deep emotion, and congratulations on your POTW nod over at Hillary's place!

  21. Beautiful memories!
    Congratulations on Hilary's Post of the Week, well deserved. Loved reading this post!

  22. Oh but this was beautifully written. You sound a wonderful parent. Be sure to write again as your son goes off on his own.



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