I have decided that my eldest son is going to be a star. He doesn’t know it yet, and it will probably come as something of a surprise, given that he has never shown any interest in performing. I’d love to tell you the signs were there, that he was always jumping on the table during dinner and reciting Hamlet’s soliloquy or doing a selection of showtunes, but really, there weren’t any signs, or indications that he wanted to perform. It was I who had the awakening to this previously unexplored career avenue during his end of year concert. This was the point where I went from casually disinterested parent to enthusiastic showbiz dad, with dollar-sign eyes and a heart full of unfulfilled dreams that I could now project onto him. This would be my calling – I was going to be one of those showbiz dads, like Justin Bieber’s old man, or Lindsay Lohan’s parents. You know – a real success story and the envy of parents everywhere.
I was tremendously excited to learn that the play my son was cast in was set in the Middle East, which is very topical right now. Could it be a Fisher Price remake of Zero Dark Thirty, I pondered? No, it could not. He would be playing the role of some manner of comical mujahideen in Ali Baba And The Bongo Bandits, which, it turned out, really didn’t have any great insights into the geopolitics of the Persian Gulf, but instead had characters with names like Sheik Yabooty and Mustafa Widdle. Still, even the great Robert De Niro had to start somewhere, and look at him now – doing ads for bread on UK TV.
Things have changed since my day – the only shows I can ever remember from national school were Nativities, where I usually got to play a sheep, or rock. If you were lucky you got cast in the church’s Easter pageant alongside a live donkey and someone from the girls school wrapped in a blue blanket. The idea of a school play that wasn’t religious was, well, sacrilege.
It’s a weary trope to say that kids today have it easy. Wasn’t like this in my day, we mutter through pursed lips, somehow reimagining that we lived as Victorian chimney sweeps in a shack under the Thames before dying of consumption aged ten leaving a wife and ten kids behind. Kids today have it easier in some ways, and harder in others – but at least we spend more time thinking about them as emotional beings, whose mental well-being is just as important as points in the Leaving or sporting prowess.
My son’s school production was a joy – to simply see a bunch of 11 year old chewing scenery like young Oliviers, and revelling in their moment in the spotlight. In between fretting about how the internet is destroying their minds and they are all going to need hip replacements at 40 from doing The Floss, it is good to remind yourself that the world is actually getting better, and that the kids might actually be alright. Perhaps my generation are lightening up a little too – after all, the school principal told us that we were the first audience in the school’s history to give a standing ovation, although the fact most of us were double parked outside probably had a lot to do with the speed at which we jumped out of our seats.
After the show my son said he enjoyed it, but wasn’t sure he would like to do it again. I could see that he would have liked a more prominent role, but perhaps like his dad, wouldn’t be great at sticking to the script, or even sharing the spotlight. Maybe I won’t get to be one of those great showbiz dads after all, and that my kids can just be normal, and quietly great. I guess that’s ok too.