Saturday, November 24, 2012

A father writes (though not this one), and parents the world over might understand

It is by no means the world-stopping story of the month and most certainly few people living outside Britain will have heard about it and even fewer living outside Britain, but it is worth mentioning here, not least because it might ring a chord with parents throughout the world.

It concerns a retired Royal Navy submarine commander, Nick Crews, who lost patience with his three children and told them a few home truths. And having written that, I can already sense that some readers might already be jumping to conclusions: reactionary old buffer goes ballistic because he is out of touch with modern life. But it was nothing of the kind. Crews has three children, two daughters and a son, and feels all that, given the start they had in life, all three failed to make anything of themselves. But again what I have just written might well give the wrong impression.

Crews didn’t rant and rave at them, but, by his own admission, bit his lip and told himself that it was not for him to interfere. He says his own father had been rather remote and that from the start he had decided to - in his own words - be a friend to his children and not be as remote. Each went to boarding school - not necessarily the advantage it is made out to be by many here in Britain but it cannot be denied that it does give many an additional step up in life - and given his career in the Navy, it is reasonable to assume the they didn’t want for anything while growing up. What did for Crews was the misery he saw his children put there mother through: they would ring her up and moan, moan, moan about their lives and their lot in life. One day he snapped and sent all three an email in which he finally spoke his mind (you can read it below). It didn’t go down well.

All three had been married and divorced, one daughter had remarried and the son was about to marry again. All three had been to university, but professionally had not achieved much. But Crews stresses that it was not their lack of success in life which got to him, but how - as he points out in his email - they would dump all their woes on their mother, who was getting more and more unhappy. All three were upset to get the email, but then home truths do usually upset us, and so far Crews is only reconciled with one, his eldest daughter, who now admits she feels he has a point.

In follow-up pieces in the media, I came across this by Crews which I feel resonates far beyond the matter in hand and sums up rather neatly - at least for me - much of the ethos of the western world. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph columnist Christine Odone (which you can find here) Crews describes ‘contemporary society’ as offering ‘a cancerous cocktail where on the one hand everyone is supposed to be free to do whatever they wish, but on the other we all expect protection from the consequences of our actions’. Anyone who reads this blog regularly will not be surprised that I agree completely with that description.

OK, so Nick Crews is a Brit, a reasonably prosperous middle-class chap from a certain background - he went to Sherbourne - but I am sure parents, from whatever ‘class’ and from other backgrounds, throughout the world might understand his frustration and disappointment.
The text of his email:

Dear All Three

With last evening’s crop of whinges and tidings of more rotten news for which you seem to treat your mother like a cess-pit, I feel it is time to come off my perch.
It is obvious that none of you has the faintest notion of the bitter disappointment each of you has in your own way dished out to us. We are seeing the miserable death throes of the fourth of your collective marriages at the same time we see the advent of a fifth.

We are constantly regaled with chapter and verse of the happy, successful lives of the families of our friends and relatives and being asked of news of our own children and grandchildren. I wonder if you realise how we feel — we have nothing to say which reflects any credit on you or us. We don’t ask for your sympathy or understanding — Mum and I have been used to taking our own misfortunes on the chin, and making our own effort to bash our little paths through life without being a burden to others. Having done our best — probably misguidedly — to provide for our children, we naturally hoped to see them in turn take up their own banners and provide happy and stable homes for their own children.
Fulfilling careers based on your educations would have helped — but as yet none of you is what I would confidently term properly self-supporting. Which of you, with or without a spouse, can support your families, finance your home and provide a pension for your old age? Each of you is well able to earn a comfortable living and provide for your children, yet each of you has contrived to avoid even moderate achievement. Far from your children being able to rely on your provision, they are faced with needing to survive their introduction to life with you as parents.
So we witness the introduction to this life of six beautiful children — soon to be seven — none of whose parents have had the maturity and sound judgment to make a reasonable fist at making essential threshold decisions. None of these decisions were made with any pretence to ask for our advice.

In each case we have been expected to acquiesce with mostly hasty, but always in our view, badly judged decisions. None of you has done yourself, or given to us, the basic courtesy to ask us what we think while there was still time finally to think things through. The predictable result has been a decade of deep unhappiness over the fates of our grandchildren. If it wasn’t for them, Mum and I would not be too concerned, as each of you consciously, and with eyes wide open, crashes from one cock-up to the next. It makes us weak that so many of these events are copulation-driven, and then helplessly to see these lovely little people being so woefully let down by you, their parents.

I can now tell you that I for one, and I sense Mum feels the same, have had enough of being forced to live through the never-ending bad dream of our children’s underachievement and domestic ineptitudes. I want to hear no more from any of you until, if you feel inclined, you have a success or an achievement or a REALISTIC plan for the support and happiness of your children to tell me about. I don’t want to see your mother burdened any more with your miserable woes — it’s not as if any of the advice she strives to give you has ever been listened to with good grace — far less acted upon. So I ask you to spare her further unhappiness. If you think I have been unfair in what I have said, by all means try to persuade me to change my mind. But you won’t do it by simply whingeing and saying you don’t like it. You’ll have to come up with meaty reasons to demolish my points and build a case for yourself. If that isn’t possible, or you simply can’t be bothered, then I rest my case.
I am bitterly, bitterly disappointed.


I have no idea about any of those, around 30 a day these days, who read this blog (except three). I don’t know whether you are a man or a woman, young, middle-aged or old, what your ‘background’ is and whether or not you have children. But I’m pretty certain that those of you who do have children will feel for Crews. Of course it would be easy to make him out to be some kind of snob who feels his children are letting him down in the eyes of his friends - his son works for a taxi service and one daughter works in a ship chandler’s.

But, rightly or wrongly, that’s not the impression I get. One thing almost all of those who, like Crews, have gone to sea, is a lack of airs and graces. The sea is a great leveller. Crews is not being snobbish, he is speaking from the heart.

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