Lazy afterglow of a substantial Sunday lunch. Half awake, half asleep, guard down. Family sits round the fire while a blanket of grey cloud lies useless over a shivering land. Columbo does his just one more thing thing, background noise to meandering conversation.
Then, out of the blue: ten-year-old nephew, all wide-eyed innocence and endless appetite for questions, fixes me with an earnest look and says: “Uncle Paul, I want to be like you.”
A flattering thought. Surprising too!
“Me? Why do you want to be like me?”
Because I try to ask him more questions than he asks me? Because we spend time inventing nonsense stories? Or because I make him laugh with daft puns and funny wordplay. Who knows?
His answer I don’t remember. Although heart-warming, it is a compliment and my brain hears compliments as white noise. I remember what I said after though:
“Don’t try to be like anyone! Be yourself. Follow your own dreams and don’t judge your achievements by those of others.”
Does a boy of ten understand any of that? No idea, but I believe each and every word. Believe them despite knowing how often I disobey them. Like any good adult, I’m perfectly happy ignoring my own advice.
Look how much that person knows.
Look how well that person writes.
Look at the interesting things that person does.
It’s silly and frustrating and I don’t want anybody – least of all an impressionable family member – to fall into the same trap. Don’t be anything like me, young man. I spend way too long concerned that I’m not somebody else.
However: guard is down. A child does not suffer the flaws that us owd ‘uns (as they say in Stoke) do and can cut through the white noise. My insecurity is a mystery he cares nothing for, so he must see something else to admire and, fleetingly, the blur clears.
Perhaps I dismissed his sentiment too hastily. Perhaps his aspiration will one day yield creativity without worry about what anybody else thinks. Then he will be an adult to inspire the generation beyond his own – and he can answer all my questions about how he does it.