Does the man of the house walk out for the sake of a degree?

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Indy Lifestyle Online
When Allister Harry became the first member of his family to be offered a place at university, he decided to keep it a secret. He was needed at home ...

I'd got the grades I needed! I could now accept a place at Loughborough University to study English. But as the Man of the House, I took it as my duty not to break the good news to my mother. I prepared to turn the offer down.

I knew my mother couldn't afford to watch another man walk out of her home, and life. My father had left three years previously, but the hollow thud of the front door that had shut us out of his life reverberated in our minds as if it were yesterday.

I must have been the only 19-year-old in the country who hid the good news under his pillow. Tossing and turning that night, mulling over the news, I imagined what it would be like to leave home. The freedom ... Dagenham was too parochial, too inhibiting, a small town with a small-town mentality whose main attraction was the Ford Motor Company. At home, I slept in a bunk bed, crammed into a poky box room shared with my little (but big with it) brother. Dagenham was where I suffered from, and was diagnosed as having, "potential". Loughborough was where I would contract fully blown talent. Also, the prospectus said there were no bunk beds ...

But if I left Dagenham I would miss my friends and family. I would wither away without home cooking. Remembering to pay the bills on time, not being able to pay them, knowing which aisle Tesco keeps the peanut butter on, were just some of the responsibilities that awaited me at university. Before I fell asleep, I had decided. I'd stay put.

In the cool light of morning I realised I was thinking rubbish. I had forgotten my mother's little dream - in fact, a big one: she had a dream that one day her child would go to university, and that she would go to the graduation and cry. Who was I to deny her this?

During angry moments she would appear to have no knowledge of this dream. "If you're old enough to talk back to me," she would scream, "you're old enough to be working. You're the Man of the House now. You need to bring some money in to help bring up your brothers and sisters."

Seeing that I was about to sacrifice my freedom and talent for my siblings, I sought advice from Brunette, my much younger but learned sister. She said: "For someone who has been accepted at university you're surprisingly stupid." It was obvious - stupid. I had to go.

I was surprised when my young and precocious brother also took it upon himself to offer me advice. "Mum has wanted one of us to go to university since you were my age. I think you should go."

Was he scheming to protect his own future? If I didn't go, think of the pressure on him ... and anyway, if I were a 12-year-old, stuffed into a box room with an uncool older brother and too many books, I would have given me the same advice.

So, I tentatively broke the good news to Mum. Hugging me, with graduation tears, she said: "It's like a dream come true." That year I left home. Happily. As the Man of the Moment.

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