I recall it being a fairly unremarkable cold and wet day in April when ‘it’ happened. Barnaby and I have always been very close. As I work from home I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time with him in the seven years since he was born. He and I share the same geeky passions and we will both happily while away the hours playing with Lego and watching endless episodes of 1980s kids TV shows on YouTube. We like the same things, we laugh at the same stuff, we’re a team. Little did I know that one day all that would change.
On the day in question I’d just cooked some tea for the kids (a culinary classic of fish fingers, mash, peas and too much ketchup). In between mouthfuls I was attempting to extract what interesting stuff he’d been doing at school. As usual this was a painful process – a grunt and a “can’t remember” were the best he could offer. Then, out of the blue, came the words that would break my heart in two.
“Daddy, I’ve been thinking about it and I think that maybe, probably, well definitely, I like Harry Potter more than I like Star Wars.”
I felt sick in my mouth. The love of Star Wars is of religious proportions in our house. The boy had been indoctrinated since the age of 1. He’d been given Star Wars pyjamas on his second birthday. There was a host of Lego Star Wars vehicles from the whole family when he hit 3. On his 4th birthday he was given the ridiculously over-sized Millennium Falcon Legacy Edition that I’d had tracked down on eBay and driven four hours to collect. And of course over the years we’d watched all the films (and discussed them endlessly). We’d oohed and ahhhed at the battle scenes laid out perfectly in Legoland. We’d been to Madame Tussauds for some waxy Star Wars fun. We’d even had a craft afternoon where we entombed a Han Solo figure into brown liquid soap and watched it set hard (Jabba would have been proud).
Yet, after 7 years of Star Wars love, the Johhny-come-lately that is Harry Potter had suddenly waltzed in and cast his spell. I guess I should have seen it coming. Barnaby had been given all of JK’s tomes as a box set last Christmas and he’d devoured them at a rate of knots. When World Book Day came around this year in came the request for some “glasses like Harry’s please” and “ideally an owl too”. And now I come to think about it every stick in the garden had suddenly become not an elegant lightsaber, but a stupid wand to be waved.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with Mr Potter, I’m not on a one-man crusade to bring down the wizarding world. Instead, I think this post is really just me reflecting on the fact that you can’t turn your kids into a carbon copy yourself. At various points in their lives their own free will will kick in and off they’ll trot down paths you’d never explored or imagined. And I have to begrudgingly admit that’s a good thing. The world doesn’t need another me (trust me, one is enough), it needs people that are smarter, more empathetic and more tolerant than I am. It needs people that don’t just tow the line but think for themselves. It needs people with their own ideas that can change the world. And I hope that’s the person my son will become.