This was once my problem, when I was a kid, a long time ago. I was never into the stuff all the other lads in my class were into, which was basically football back then...football was everything. I never had an interest in it, consequently I very quickly found myself alone at play times. I remember, as young as seven, being aware of the pressure being put on me by my class mates, to conform.
As it happened, eventually I did.
One Christmas I asked for a West Ham strip (since that was the it team back then) and a football, instead of what I actually wanted, which was an ActionMan and the ActionMan Scorpion Tank. I remember opening my presents on Christmas day feeling somewhat deflated...the football strip and the ball weren't the things I wanted, they didn't interest me in the least, and I remember really resenting missing out on my tank. But, this is what I had to do if I wanted any sort of company come play time.
Now I'm 40, and I have son who is nine. And I see him going through the same situation. He has no interest in football, or any sport. He doesn't get all his clothes bought from JJB Sports, he doesn't wear a burberry baseball cap perched back on a shaved coconut head. He doesn't have Wayne Rooney lunch box tucked under one arm.
And I think he's beginning to pay a heavy price for that.
He tells me the other boys in his class call him a girl, because he has longer hair than theirs. I've seen him emerge from school at the end of the day, alone, shoulders slumped and worn out from a day's worth of being isolated and ignored. And my heart aches for him. He asked to have his lovely blonde hair shaved off...to which I happily agreed - after all it's his hair. But then he said later on he didn't want to have it shaved off, but other boys in his class, were teasing him, telling him he should look like them.
It makes me feel so angry. My little lad is different. I'm not saying his special, or better, just different, that's all. And yet, the other little bullet-headed football clones out in the playground are crushing his individuality, crushing his spirit...coercing him to look like them, or face isolation, ridicule. As a kid, I just didn't have the strength of personality to fight back...I gave in and became a rubbish facsimile of them, going through the motions, pretending to be interested in West Ham, learning a few footballer names.
And it breaks my heart that he's having to deal with this same crap now. Only that pressure to conform is so much more intense now than when I was a kid. The whole sports label thing, the £45 football shirts, the £100 trainers. It's almost too much to bear...that soon, very soon, I'm going to have to part with lots of hard-earned money to dress my lad in labeled clothes that some unimaginative, slack-jawed football drone child, insists my lad must wear...before he'll accept him as a friend.
I hate that playground peer fascism thing...the way children can be to each other. And I pray that the sixteen year old lad that emerges out the other end of this deppressing, threatening, period of his life, otherwise known as his 'school days', will retain some of the individuality he went into it with.
Shit. If I ever, ever, earn enough as a writer...I'll pay for him to be home-schooled if that's what he wants.