Don't copy my mistakes, kids, make your own

I'm a great believer in there being more to life than exams

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The Independent Online

One of the rare joys of growing old is the knowledge that you’ll never have to take another exam. I can remember days of being paralysed with nerves before an exam only to go through the limbo of waiting for results. I suppose the only thing similar is some sort of medical test that leaves you unable to function until you get the verdict. (For the record it was all-clear. I’m clean.)

We’ve been on tenterhooks in the Joly household as we awaited the results of my boy Jackson’s 11-plus exam. He’s always been rather like me – a bit of a chancer, not the most studious of pupils, always on the look out for something, anything to distract him from schoolwork. He’s also slightly cursed by having a smart older sister who is not shy about letting him know of her braininess. So Jackson has developed a defence mechanism of putting himself down before his sister could. This had the effect of rather denting his confidence and now, with the exams upon him, tensions were high in the house.

We had to build a wobbly plan of action should he fail the exams. Stacey had spent ages trying to coax and encourage him to revise by telling him how important these exams were. Now, as we awaited the results, we had to backtrack and tell him how it really didn’t matter if he failed. He’s smart enough to smell bulls*** a mile off, but we meant it. I’m a great believer in there being more to life than exams. We just felt that it would do his confidence the world of good if he passed.

I’d often give him the line about how people develop and shine at different speeds. “Everyone at my school who did well then, didn’t really go on to do anything else…,” I’d say.

“What about that film director Christopher Nolan?” he’d ask. 

“Well, apart from him,” I’d mumble. “Some people just come into their own later on in life,” I’d muse sagely.

 “When did it happen to you, Dad?” asked Jackson. I muttered something about it surely having to happen soon and changed the subject.

The problem is that he is too similar to me for my liking. I can see him tackling school in the same non-existent way as I did. As a dad, part of your job is to try and stop your kids making the same mistakes as you did. But should you manage to do this they will only go and make their own new ones.

I remember being asked to go back to my old school to give a talk to the leavers. To Stacey’s horror I suggested that they didn’t need to go to university. I’ve never been asked for proof of either my A-levels or my degree.

“Just go on a long holiday and then pretend you did brilliantly at uni – nobody will ever check…” To Stacey’s enormous relief the headmaster sidled on to the stage and ushered me off.

The postman arrived with the letter. Jackson passed with flying colours – an A and two Bs. As proud parents we backtracked again and started telling him how proud we were of this hugely important result. They most likely f*** you up, your mum and dad.