The oldest man in the house

I’m fuming – no, not about the wall-to-wall footy and tennis on the tele playing havoc with the schedule for Eastenders. No, about that awful scene in the programme about David Beckham in Brazil (David Beckham – Into the Unknown, BBC1, 9th June). And no, not the bit where the first thing Victoria asks him about the trip is what he’s going to do with his hair. ‘I don’t ever go to humid countries because of my hair,’ she says. No, the one where David takes his son, Brooklyn (aged 15), into the garden before he goes off and has a father-son talk, telling his son ‘be the big boy – you’re the oldest man in the house so that means you’ve got to look after your mum, your sister and your brothers…’ Oh my days, it was straight out of the 1950s – 1940s even. I remember something like it in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe film when Peter and his sisters and brother are evacuated during the war. But maybe I’m being too kind – isn’t this a throwback to the Victorian era? And, deary me, Becks mentioned he’s always said this to Brooklyn when he’s going away – so when Brooklyn was even younger then.

Now obviously David Beckham is a bit of an icon – a national treasure, perhaps – even I succumb to his remorseless niceness. And he’s a local boy, born in Whipps Cross Hospital, Leytonstone, where granddaughters 1, 2 and 3 were born. Legend has it that his first date with Victoria was sitting chatting in the car park of a Harvester pub up the road from where I live – though I guess he’s moved on a bit since then. But I’m afraid he’s not moved on in the parenting stakes. Was the BBC sending him up just a little or did they, and he, think that these kind of values (in fashion these days) would go down well on prime time telly in 2014?

Who’s the parent here? you might ask – the eldest son? I don’t think so. Surely laying this responsibility on a child is a bit much – supposing, perish the thought, something happened to a member of the family on his watch – he’d have to live with with it on his conscious for the rest of his life because he’d failed to protect them. And aren’t these attitudes a tad patronising, not to say sexist, towards mums who, let’s face it, are capable of successfully juggling a million family, and for many, work things all at once. And should male children be brought up to think that women generally are weak and feeble and unable to look after themselves and have to be protected? And these unequal relationships go on to be mirrored in the outside world too. Is this the kind of world we want? A thousand times no – it makes my blood boil (I’m on the tablets).

And I know there are other British parents out there still peddling this archaic stereotype that combines issues about gender and being the firstborn which can have deep-seated and far-reaching effects on family dynamics and relationships. The stresses and pressures on first born children have been well researched and documented as have the effects caused by age position in the family. Of course, attitudes and comments in the outside world have a part to play but it is within the family that these ideas have the strongest effect. I was brought up in the 1940s and 50s when such attitudes held sway. I was one of four siblings but, unlike Brooklyn, we are four girls and I was the third one down in the ‘pecking order’. I was at a family gathering recently and, with me at nigh on 70, it’s still possible sometimes to detect how these ideas continue to affect the way we relate to each other.

I suppose some people might just shrug and say ‘Families, eh’ and it’s true that nowadays there are lots of families in which children are brought up to feel equal whatever their age and capabilities are. But it can feel like swimming against the tide in the current climate where gender stereotype roles are being reinforced in the media and many shops are still targeting supposed gender-specific things such as clothes, toys and books separately at girls and boys. It’s as if we are being driven (many of us kicking and screaming like me, for example) – if not to Victorian times as some pundits would have it – at least back to the 1950s. I’ve been there already, thank you, and it wasn’t great shakes as far as equality is concerned.

So it certainly doesn’t need a celeb to join in this march back to the past. Perhaps, though, David Beckham found the time to reflect on his words to his son while hacking single-handed (well, with three friends and a BBC camera crew) through an Amazonian rain forest. I don’t think it’s very likely. But hopefully, like other parents and people still espousing this load of rubbish, he’s a bit of a dinosaur in this respect. Come on Becks, people listen to what you say – wise up and join the 21st century – it’s equality we’re wanting between siblings nowadays not archaic hierarchical structures based on gender and age.

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *