How I rediscovered my teenage son

Living with my son seems somehow more essential than all the years I lived and worked for him
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The Independent Culture
I LIVE with my 19 year old son. We're sharing the flat in Camden, north London, that I moved into last April when I separated from my wife. My son dropped out of university in June, having decided, for reasons still unclear to both of us, not to sit his exams.

My son's best friend, Harry, is living nearby in his father's West Hampstead flat. Harry just dropped out of his university in the Midlands.

Fred, one of my best friends, spent last year living with his son after the 19-year-old botched his A-levels. Now he's at a good northern university. "He may be back," Fred says. "I'm not sure that he's ready to stick it yet."

Middle-class middle-aged fathers and their sons living together: is this the latest social trend? Don't ask me, especially not if you're a television documentary film researcher. All I know is what I'm doing, what I'm seeing and what I'm reading in the newspapers.

Earlier this month, I read that almost one in five British university students dropped out last year, the majority without taking their exams. This is an increase of 7 per cent - from 12 per cent to 19 per cent - over the past three years.

Some claimed the explanation was the increased number of students attending university, with too many kids seeking higher education who should have gone straight into jobs.

On the other hand, the National Union of Students said the increase was caused by the students' worsening financial problems, even before the Government's pounds 1,000 tuition fee takes effect.

All I know is that, after 20 years of living for my son, paying up to one third of my annual income to keep him and his sister in private schools, I'm now living with him. If you detect some confusion here, that's no surprise. I'm a man and according to all the recent reports on "Men", including one conducted "on four continents and 46 countries", men are confused and "failing hopelessly to come to terms with the late 20th century".

The fact is that living with my son has proved to be an unexpected favour. We have been having a reasonably good time sharing the cooking, doing the laundry, going out to the pub, watching television and failing hopelessly to come to terms with the late 20th century together.

Living with my son seems somehow more essential and satisfying than all the years I lived and worked for him. He claims to feel the same way. So does his friend Harry, who says, "All the years I was growing up, I only saw my father on the weekends or late in the evenings. I didn't know what he was really like. When he spoke to me, it was in these big statements - as if he thought whatever he said had to be important. Now we just talk like two people."

Of course there are differences in taste and style. I have difficulty whenever I see the state of my son's room. (Best to shut the door on that here, as at home.) I've had to accustom myself to his personal wardrobe of motley T-shirts, baggy blue trousers and smelly grey trainers. The only thing he seems to watch on television are cartoons like South Park and The Simpsons. He isn't particularly interested in politics and never reads a newspaper

However two years at university have taught my son to be a good cook, a canny shopper, and an expert guide to the local video shop, where he's apparently seen everything on the shelves at least twice. His concern for my health and welfare is almost wifely. If I'm out late, he'll ring around looking for me. If he's out all night, I can just go to sleep now.

The "generation gap" that was headline news during my Sixties adolescence seems to have been replaced - for his Nineties generation - by the continuing war between the sexes. How this affects my son - or me - is not easy to pinpoint, but I suppose it does. We're not living a monastic life, but the women we know all seem to be unique individuals. Indeed we sometimes give each other advice, but we never discuss women.

Charlotte Raven recently wrote that "women are increasingly rejecting men because they are simply not good enough. To say this is women's fault is rather like blaming a consumer returning shoddy products." Have my son and I been returned to life's supermarket. Are we two generations of damaged goods? Probably, since neither of us knows how to hold the door open for half the population of the world, nor how to make amends to it.

Still, in the morning, when we wake up and go to work - my son to the mailroom where he's temping, me to the newspaper - I welcome the feeling of shared enterprise and shared blood. At least my son and I can share the same shelf in the world, making no big statements, just speaking like two people. For the time being, at least, we're sticking together.

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