I have always been a slightly embarrassing parent. I was always worried that people would be liable to ask my children, "Isn't your dad that twerp on the radio?" When I drove William, our oldest, to Liverpool University for the first time, he sensibly asked me to stay in the car. I don't want to be melodramatic about it but I have to say that I did sneak round to see where he lived. Having driven away, I pulled over to the side of the road and cried. It was similar with all of them.
I never went to university. My four children went as much for the social experience as anything; they needed to escape from Stowmarket, although they all come home when they can.
I really missed them and am prone to bursting into floods of tears anyway. I had been packed off to boarding school at seven and had no intention of packing my children off as boarders, so they went to the local village school, then to Combs Middle School and finally to the comprehensive in Stowmarket.
Our youngest, Flossie, now at the university which William went to, is quite shy and I was worried that she would find me a greater embarrassment than the others did. I didn't even drive her up. Her mother and aunt took her up to Liverpool and I waved them off, which I found very hard.
I did go up with Sheila to take Thomas to Sheffield Hallam and, in fact, I visited him more than the others - I like Sheffield. Alexandra, who went to Salford and then after two years switched to Brighton, was equally relaxed about my visiting. I was strangely touched that it was acceptable, at the beginning of her first term, for me to carry her stuff into the building, rather than just watch other parents heaving their children's luggage about.
When they went to university, this was the first time the children had been away from home for any length of time. For me, this resulted in a certain amount of staring gloomily at their abandoned bedrooms. All four were always keen to come back for vacations and, as is always the case, you are then reminded of the things that irritate you about them; but you discover an extraordinary capacity for forgiveness, which I rather resent.
They were always based at home; and now the two who have left home do live in the same country and do come home fairly frequently. William lives in the North-east with his girlfriend and Alexandra lives in Ipswich with her partner. We hear from them most days - by phone; they don't email because they wouldn't be noticed among the 2,000 or 3,000 emails which I receive via the BBC.
I can't say if going to university has brought them closer to us or distanced them from us. But I can say that we have recently reached a turning point. I've just got back from Sonar, a festival in Barcelona where on one night I was one of 10 DJs playing records. Flossie had come with some friends and afterwards we were waiting for taxis. She insisted that Sheila and I took the first taxi. This was the first time that Flossie, the youngest, had shown this kind of concern for us; she felt responsibility for us, instead of us feeling responsibility for her.
How should parents prepare themselves for children going off to university? I wouldn't presume to give anyone advice. I would have done once but now I keep my mouth shut.
Interview by Jonathan Sale
- More about:
- Family And Parenting