‘The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree’

There were many different strands to the squash centre we owned back in the day. The club offered a range of activities for all age groups. Apart from the obvious squash, there was vigorous action in the gyms, fitness and dance classes… and my lips are sealed with regard to the social activities!

The club took care of our junior members, many of whom were sons and daughters of adult players. The Saturday morning junior coaching sessions were conducted by myself and several other senior members. We also provided facilities upstairs for pool, snooker and table-tennis.

Naturally, when you have a mixed bunch of 12-16-year-olds, you are going to have high spirits, high jinks and the occasional over-the-top high. Overall, I remember the kids as a great bunch to work with, but while we made allowances for having fun, there had to be a few strict rules in place for the smooth running of the club. These rules would sometimes be ‘tested’!

I didn’t allow juniors chew gum on the squash courts – having spent too many minutes scraping the disgusting goo from walls and floor. I warned them to empty their mouths before every session.

Then I nabbed a young lad chewing. I took him off court and sent him home. Let’s call him ‘John’. John’s parents were great people, well known to me and we met often. The incident was never mentioned and John was back the following Saturday. Today, John is an outstanding citizen, successful in his chosen career and with a healthy interest in sport.

All of the juniors were allowed play pool, but only those of an accomplished standard were permitted to use the full-size snooker table. An absolute ‘no-no’ was to place a drink over the cushion or on the edge of the table. ‘Michael’ placed his pint of blackcurrant drink on the edge of the table and in taking his shot, accidentally knocked the half-full glass on to the felt. I ‘reamed and roared’ him out of it and sent him home. That is all there would have been about that, but…

The first thing was a phone call from Michael’s mother, rebuking me and insisting the spilled drink would have done the snooker table no harm! Shortly thereafter, Michael arrived in, accompanied by his father. When I pointed out the stain on the table, Michael’s daddy said; “I don’t care what he did, you don’t speak to my son like that.”

With that, I ended the exchange, went to the till, and refunded Michael’s membership fee. The kid was now deprived of the fun, fellowship, and the other substantial benefits of being a member; whereas his only penalty for making a mistake would have been my ‘bollocking’.

Michael has not done as well as John in any aspect of their lives.

I was reminded of the difference in parents last week when I read about the debate sweeping America as to whether parents should be held to account for their children’s criminal actions. Of course it isn’t the first time for that vexed question to come up. We are talking America, folks, and this couldn’t happen here… could it?

A 15-year-old boy killed four of his fellow pupils. The lead-up started when he told his parents he was having problems. His father advised him to ‘suck it up’ and in order to make him feel in control of the problem, daddy bought him a semi-automatic hand gun.

On the day of the shooting, the mother was called to the school and asked to take her son home, as he was being troublesome. She refused, ‘unless Ethan wanted to leave’. The boy announced he was returning to class; which he did, opened his backpack, produced Daddy’s present and opened fire with the gun.

It came out since that the boy had never in his short life been told to do anything he didn’t want to do. I hope the prison warden has house rules for his snooker tables!

The debate in America is not so much about the shooting as it is about the fact that both parents have been charged with manslaughter and the country is divided on the issue.

So should parents be responsible for how their teenage children behave? It is hard to say, I suppose. A headmaster of a secondary school told me one time that he pretty well knows what the first years will be like as fifth years. ‘I just look at the parents,’ he told me.

Obviously, the environment that children grow up in influences the type of adults they will become. On the other hand, we were taught in Johnstown school that a child ‘reaches the use of reason at seven years old’. If the child has attained the use of reason and knows right from wrong, is the parent still always culpable? That is the debate.

Don’t Forget

Youth looks ahead, old age looks back and middle age looks tired.