I got the news yesterday that my dad had passed away. I got upset about this of course, but as I sat chatting to my partner last night I began to realise that a friend’s advice who was with me when I got the phone call had a good deal of truth in it. She had advised me to celebrate his life with memories of the good things I’d received from him. That evening I came to the conclusion that one of the great gifts he’d given me was his complete and utter indifference to the things that really mattered to me. Let me explain.
Like most males of my acquaintance I realised early that I was a bit of a disappointment to my father: I did try but I was a complete ass a football, judo, cricket, gymnastics, scouts, sailing and a number of other ourdoorsy, “rugged” pursuits. Dad being a “pommie” immigrant, it is of course the round ball version of football that I’m referring to. Listing his interests like this, I realise I’m probably creating the impression I was raised by an English version of Vladimir Putin, however nothing could be further from the truth. Dad was a good man who worked hard, was quick to laugh, verbally witty and quite possibly the smartest man I’ve ever met. He was also accident prone, emotionally awkward and the possessor of a spectacularly foul temper on very rare occasions. I’ll leave it to those who know me to judge which of these traits I inherited 🙂 I wouldn’t say I spent my childhood years striving to please my father but I’ve come to realise that I did spend a fair bit of my youth being placed in one activity after another in the vain hope that I’d excel at something, anything, physical. As I say I did try but I simply wasn’t interested in most sports and after playing Rugby Union for 4 or 5 years I also worked out that many of them hurt, a lot! 🙂
Of course, as is the way with these things, my father was completely indifferent to the things I was really interested in which could fairly be described as books, trains and wanting to play the guitar like Jimmy Page. I have a very vivid memory of him making fun of my early efforts at learning the guitar: dancing about humming “Little Brown Jug” which happened to be the song I was labouring over from the Mel Bay guitar book. Did this have an impact? Well I gave up most activities he pushed me into after about 18 months but I kept up my guitar lessons, playing in bands and dreaming of lead guitar glory for something like 15 years. Maybe he did have some part to play.
I’ve been involved in the hobby of model trains as an adult for something like 25 years. For all of that time I’ve been reading model train magazines and one constant throughout all that reading is the number of times hobbyists have mentioned they got their start from the gift of a train set, a father or uncle who worked for the railways or a father/grandfather who had a layout. Not me. My father was utterly indifferent to my interest in model trains, planes and tanks. In fact if he’d been asked I’m not sure he’d have been even faintly aware that I spent a great of my youth assembling kits, painting tiny figures and helping my friends set up circles of train track on which we could run trains. For me trains were something magical that happened on the concrete floor of a friend’s garage. My family didn’t have the money for either the trains or the garage. So my dad didn’t see the hours I spent on my knees crawling about on the floor, the intense concentration I’d devote to these pursuits or the amount of pure enjoyment I gained from seeing a train finally make a circle around the track we’d built. Who knows, with even a fraction of that devotion devoted to soccer the world may have had another David Beckham on its hands, but I doubt it! 🙂
Older men in our hobby are sometimes heard to bemoan the lack of interest a younger generation has in model railways: they ponder how the young can be attracted to the hobby and what we should be doing about getting them involved. If my experience is any guide I would suggest that the best way to get young people into the hobby is to either belittle it in front of them or to be completely oblivious to any interest they do show in it. Is the future of model railways benign neglect? Perhaps I exaggerate, just a little bit 🙂