Like Son, Not Like Father

I used to laugh when some people did not want their children to take after them. But I’ve since changed my mind

tree8A COUPLE of years after I graduated from university, I spotted one of my English Literature lecturers at a café in Holland Road. She was deep in thought over a cup of coffee.  I had always felt that teachers were an unappreciated lot and decided to say hello to her and thank her.

Besides, I was then close to getting married and it was an opportune time to impress my wife-to-be with the sensitive side of me. I stopped at the table and said: ‘Hello Dr D’Cruz, I don’t think you remember me, but I was one of your Lit students.’

She looked up, and recognition flashed in her eyes. ‘Mathew Pereira! You attended my first tutorial and never showed up for the rest of the semester. Of course I remember you,’ she rattled off, the same way she did in her lectures.

What a memory she had. I’d skipped so many of her tutorials that I had even forgotten she had been one of my tutors, not just a lecturer. I began to understand why students never bother to show their appreciation to  their teachers.

It is not an incident I am particularly proud of, but part of the genes my Dad and Mum gave me, coupled with a lack of discipline, made me operate that way. (My Mum insists there is nothing wrong with my genes.) I didn’t pay very much attention to the DNA I passed on to my three kids until they got older.

With them in their teens now, I hear every so often comments about how they are just like me in one way or another. I don’t know if I should be proud or concerned. These chip-of-the-old-block comments often bring to mind something which happened between me and a colleague in my first job after graduation. It is an incident that has always stayed with me.

My colleague was in his early 40s then and a father of two, I should say a proud father of two. One day, while at his desk, I noticed a picture of his son in a nice frame occupying prime space on his table. The boy, who looked about 12 or so then, was cute and had a nice smile.

There was a striking resemblance between the boy in the picture and my colleague and I remarked: ‘Your son looks just like you.’  His smile disappeared and he glowered at me. I could tell I had said something wrong.

I glanced at the photo again. Nope, it was not a photo of a girl whom I had mistaken for a boy. Plus, the kid in the picture looked too much like him to be anybody else’s son.

Finally, he said: ‘Look at his eyes, there is a sparkle in them. Look at his smile, he is a very handsome boy.’ That he was. ‘And, do you know, he is very intelligent,’ he added.
He paused, then said: ‘So don’t ever say he is exactly like me.’

We used to tease this guy about his drooping shoulders, pigeon chest and receding chin. Clearly, he felt his son was much better. Being brash and an insensitive 20something fresh out of the university, I remembered struggling to stop bursting out in laughter.

I would have thought any normal parent would take pride in being told how much his or her child resembled him or her. But now, more than 20 years on, I understand that his reaction was actually one of absolute pride in his kids.

He was not one to take criticism readily but, in that instance, he was prepared to put himself down to say: No, my son is better. Like him, whenever I am told my sons – especially Marcus – is exactly like me, I am sometimes ambivalent. And I want to know exactly which part of me is he most like.

I am happy to see that he is talented in sports, has a good sense of humour and cares about people. On the other hand, there are traits which remind me too much of myself that really concern me, including his tendency to take things easy, his penchant for practical jokes and a general lack of discipline when it comes to schoolwork.

Many of these traits make him who he is. I enjoy them, his friends love him and so do the teachers who do not teach him.  But knowing very well how some of these qualities could be a strength or a liability, depending on the situation, I spend time telling him about some of the possible consequences if he does not rein himself in at the right time.

Sometimes, I do feel that if these traits had been pointed out to me more often, especially when I was a teen, it could have resulted in me taking some very different paths in life.
It may be that my Dad did not give me these tips because he was a strong, silent and stern father, or perhaps because he just saw me as being beyond redemption. Perhaps he had actually given me tips but I was just not listening then. I don’t know.

But today, I do feel that pointing out some of the pitfalls and alerting and reminding my children to their inherited traits will make them more conscious of them. In Marcus’ case, for example, the idea is not really to change him. He is, after all, hardwired the way he is, and I think it’s more important that all my children be themselves.

While I do hope that my kids will be improved versions of me – Matt Versions 2.1, 2.2 and 2.3 – and while I wonder what other good or bad genes I have passed on to them, I will confess, there is great joy in seeing how much they are like me – good or bad.

About The Author: Mathew Pereira is currently the Sports Editor of The Straits Times. Between 2004 and 2008, he wrote several columns which talked about his personal experience of fatherhood. This piece was one of many in his collection of fatherhood stories. Mathew is a member of the Fathers Action Network (FAN).

First published on 16-01-2012.

Categories: Dad's Journey, Matthew Pereira

Tags: , , , , ,

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