What Did You Want to be Dad?
The other day I was watching TV when my 13-year-old daughter asked me “What did you want to be when you were young Dad”?
I had a quick think to when I was 7 or 8. “ A footballer” I replied. “I wanted to play for Scotland”.
“But after that” she asked not wanting childish sporting fantasies to be counted. “I wanted to be a priest” I replied. “Why would you want to be a priest?” she asked, a little askance.
“I wanted to help people” I replied. “I wanted to help Africans. I wanted to bring them God”.
She didn’t seem impressed by that. So far it was just one of those conversations. It was what she asked next that hit me. “What did you want to do after that” she asked.
I thought for a few moments. She expected me to come up with something else. I thought I would too.
No answer came.
“Nothing” I replied.
Bolt From the Blue
It hit me like a bolt of lightning. I was 53 years old. I now realised that I didn’t want to be anything after the age of 13.
How much does that explain?
It was like a thunderbolt out of the blue from a simple question.
I had gone through secondary school without a goal in mind. There was nothing I particularly wanted to do. I knew that I would have to do something. I was told that this was OK, that it was better to go to University with no particular career in mind, to keep an open mind.
I did go to University. I didn’t particularly like it. It was like the curate’s egg, good in parts – but I couldn’t be bothered studying. In the end I couldn’t be bothered to even go to many of the classes.
It all became clear.
Why would I?
I didn’t want to be anything. I didn’t want to go to the ‘theatres or cinemas’ that a university degree would buy me a ticket into. I knew I had to do something. It’s just that I had no real passion for the opportunities that were presenting themselves.
I passed the Maths exam but failed the English and the Economics. As I had seldom gone to any of the classes in the second half of the year I was surprised that I had even passed my main subject Maths. You could do re-sits. I had had to pass one of the other two at the re-sits. I could go forward with passing one of those and re-sitting the exam for the other one in second year.
Summer Holiday Resits
I stayed up at my grandparents over the summer holidays so that I could study without being distracted my my ten brothers and sisters. The only problem was that I didn’t study much. I couldn’t be bothered. I know it was important. I knew that it was crucial to my career. But I just couldn’t do it.
I did go up to the room to study, but you could take a horse to water but you couldn’t make it drink – and I didn’t drink much water that summer at all.
I did a little near the end. I went up to do the re-sits at the university. You had to do three essays altogether. The first one I did pretty well, I thought. In fact I thought I had done it particularly well.
I didn’t know which of the other two I would do first. They were going to be a more difficult proposition but I was sure that I could do it. It would have been a case, in football terms, of having an early lead and then doing enough in the second half to hold on to that lead.
However, I couldn’t be bothered. I couldn’t even be bothered to start the questions or make any attempt at them. I took a decision then.
I wouldn’t do them. I knew exactly what it meant. I knew that my university career was over. It had always been expected that I would go to university and do well. I had expected it too.
However, it was now over. I couldn’t leave till the first hour of the three-hour exam was up so I spent the next twenty minutes doing this game of letters that I had made up where basically football teams are allocated a letter and score goals in a knockout or league competition based on how often their letter appears in a text half line. I used the exam paper as the text.
The marker of the paper must have got a surprise. On the first three pages would have been a very well answered question. When he or she would have turned over they would have found an indecipherable jumble of letters and numbers.
I left after the first hour was up, handing in my truncated paper.
What Had I done?
I remember sitting in Glasgow Central Station pondering on what I had just done. I knew that my university career was over. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to plonk a university degree in front of potential employers to help me get a good job. I knew exactly what I had done. But my main emotion as I sat there on the station bench was not a feeling of fear. It was a feeling of exhilaration.
I knew life would be more difficult now. But I was pleased. I had quit education. I had got a monkey off my back. I was no longer flogging a horse that had long since perished. I would now have to drive in fifth gear.
I didn’t really understand it at the time. Why did I quit? Why did I not want to study? Why was I exhilarated by leaving university?
I didn’t understand the answer to that question till my 13-year-old daughter’s question 35 years later.