I was about turn my head and start the familiar opening line of the lecture: ‘When I was your age...’, but I had to stop myself. There are enough signs already that I’m turning into my father, such as increasingly spending time in my garage, accumulating gardening utensils and wondering if I’m going deaf or the music is getting louder. I was driving with my two sons last Saturday morning and they were haranguing me to stop at a popular fast food chain, which to them is a distributor of toys as much as a place to eat. I was about to tell them that back in my day the nearest McDonalds was forty miles away in Dublin and we only went once a year when doing the Christmas shopping, but I stopped myself. Not only because I was disturbed by the metamorphosis into my Dad, but also because a thought struck me. What will my two sons tell their kids in twenty years time?
When it comes to them lecturing about things ‘back in their day’, what on earth will their children be expecting or feel entitled to? ‘But I want to play the Nintendo 4D Virtual Hologram In-Car Small Hadron Collider now Daddy!’ one of them will whine. ‘Back in my day,’ my son will begin, ‘we only had a Playstation 3, a Nintendo DS or an Xbox, and most of the consoles needed to be plugged into the mains electricity to operate,’ he’ll explain. ‘What’s electricity Daddy?’ one of them will ask. (I’m still holding out on someone discovering a new energy source in the next two decades.) My grandchildren will hassle the poor chap for lollipops, or whatever the lollipop of the future is. ‘When I was your age,’ he’ll say, ‘we only got lollipops every second time we passed by a shop, and Coca Cola came in bottles and not through the tap on your kitchen sink like we have now.’
He may find himself explaining that there was once a time when breakfast cereals weren’t all chocolate flavoured and the original purpose of wearing runners was to run. On that note, they’ll scarcely believe him as he explains that when he was in primary school they were allowed to play and run in the yard, after he explains what a ‘yard’ is. Once a year he’ll remind them that it wasn’t always called Chocofest; it used to be called ‘Easter’. They only had 385 channels back in his day, not the 1,206 that they have now. They used to watch films in a large building called a ‘cinema’ and not on a Google Movie Helmet™. When he was a lad they had to rent bouncy castles; people didn’t own them. Santa Claus only came once a year, not at the start of every season. Furthermore, there were four seasons back when he was little, not three different wet seasons of varying coldness and a slightly less wet but warm season.
However, maybe this is a slightly cynical and pessimistic view. Perhaps with the growing number of initiatives to promote healthy eating and exercise among children, there will be a sea change in attitudes towards consumerism and convenience. The brilliant film Wall-E has a great message about the need for wanting less, reducing consumption and promoting the simple pleasures in life. I know kids aren’t into metaphors but it’s still a great film that even a three year old would relate to. This radical shift could result in a totally different car journey conversation between my son and his kids. ‘Hey guys, let’s stop for a lollipop,’ he’ll suggest. ‘No Dad,’ they’ll reply, ‘we don’t need any more sweets; we had some last weekend, remember?’ ‘Okay, how about a cheeseburger?’ he’ll venture hopefully. ‘No Dad, that wouldn’t really be part of a balanced diet,’ they’ll explain, ‘and we’re also not sure about the ethical basis of the company’s food production.’ Presumably my son will resort to: ‘But back in my day we went at least once a week!’
But back to the present, and just as I rolled my eyes to heaven when the old ‘When I was your age’ lecture was used on me, my own two children are bored of me delivering the same speech. Thankfully I’ve found a solution: pretend you can’t hear them. After all, is the music these days getting louder anyway? Or am I going deaf?