As part of my attendance at Time to Change's 2015 StoryCamp event, I was asked to write a short blog reflecting on the theme 'the first time I...'. It needed to be limited to 450 words so there's a link to the longer version at the end. Here goes!
"As a kid, I used to think my Dad was the wisest person in the world. I won't have been alone. Most people will look up to their parents, guardians or their older siblings and see nothing but wonder gazing down. The wealth of knowledge they can bestow upon us seems limitless. They share their insights just to bring this big, scary ol' world down a peg or two. It's a wonderful feeling, but eventually, that bubble bursts. The veil is lifted and we see them for what they are. People.
Nothing causes it, we just grow up. We absorb what they have taught us and we apply it. It sinks in by osmosis. We learn that the world isn't a place of wonder and ice-cream. It happened for me when I was about 17. I went with my Dad to the local men's 'club' (not THAT kind of club!), but a working man's club to play snooker. A mythical place that smells of cigarettes and stale beer, where facts and opinions are interchangeable. I was at college at the time and my Dad was enjoying a day off. I can't remember how this spontaneous afternoon of father/son bonding came about, but I was enjoying the surreptitious nature of being in a working man's club. I was neither working, nor a man. What a rebel.
As the match dragged on, there were no high breaks or clever positional play. Just a father and son, hitting shiny spheres with wooden sticks. After an impressive (which is a completely relative term) break of 12, I potted the yellow. As the ball sank slowly into the top-left pocket, I realised I'd won the game. More than that, I realised, probably for the first time, I'd beaten my Dad. It'd actually beaten him at 'something'. I, the youngest of 3 children, had emerged victorious from this battle of sporting lightweights. He was human after all.
I love my Dad, but we've never had a particularly close relationship. We're a family, but we don't share real problems with each other. Not really. As my mental health was deteriorating years later, I didn't talk to anyone about it, especially him. The pot shots at my brain were coming thick and fast, until I broke. Everyone could see it. Opening up eventually was hard. Undoing 40 years of 'bottling up' was tough, but I did it. I do it all the time now. My Dad and I never played again, but he taught me that being a man isn't about potting balls, but having them. To stand up for who you are, despite pride or embarrassment, to be the best man you can be."
A slightly extended version of this appears on the Time To Changes website (link here) as part of their #SmallThings campaign. Also, my blog about the StoryCamp event itself is also in the 'Our Blog' section of this site.