As far as birthday presents go, the one I get my son each year is unlikely to make any top ten retailers’ list. He gets the same present every year: column inches. It was decreed five years ago, by a unanimous decision of one, that my column in the first week of June would be given over to documenting the rise and rise of Dorian French. He was five when the tradition started. He has since inexplicably doubled his age. It’s scarcely believable that we’re past the half way mark of years he’ll live with us. How did this happen? It’s an outrage, but I guess I was half expecting it.
The boy named after the heartless, narcissistic character from the Oscar Wilde novel The Picture of Dorian Gray shares only one thing in common with his namesake: youthful good looks. His distinguishing feature continues to be his mop of wild hair. A recently discovered photo of a not so recent Grandma Sue proves he gets his mop of wild hair from his mother’s side. His shocking march skywards is also best observed from his mother’s side. He’s just past her shoulders, or just lower than her shoulders if you squash down the mop of wild hair.
For the first time since the birthday columns started this one is a collaborative effort. What would sir like the audience to know? “Um…my hobby of being very interested in ships. And especially of lifeboats.” His hobby of being interested in lifeboats goes like this: He is very interested in lifeboats.
He is also very interested in the world. He watches the news and asks why wars start. But mostly he watches Minecraft videos on Youtube and build ships and lifeboats in Minecraft and wins Minecraft competitions at the Deer Park Library. No one reading this column in twenty years time no one will know what any of that means. Yes, it’s true he suffers from the common affliction known as too much screen time. It could well be hereditary, so I shouldn’t say things like that too loud.
He stays up late reading. He writes fussy, instructional notes and leaves them round the house; there’s always one in every house, isn’t there? The most recognisable sound in the world is his hysterical, high-pitched and uncontrollable giggle when we play fight on the bed. He wants to be a paramedic. He’s gentle and kind. He’ll sacrifice treats so that others may eat. If he breaks a chocolate in half he gives the bigger piece to the other person. He’s granted (some would say compulsorily charged with) an unusual amount of autonomy and independence for a kid his age. He walks himself to and from school. He rides his bike to Scouts. He stays at home alone and chats to telemarketers on the phone. He makes his own lunch. He rings his cousins and organises play dates. But his proudest achievement could well be finally being able to stuff away his sleeping bag in its bag all by himself. We thought the day would never come.
“Oh, and also write about my hobby of being interested in visiting lots of different huts.” His hobby of being interested in visiting lots of different huts goes like this: School holidays mean trips to visit family in New Zealand. High cost of accommodation mean we generally stay in some of New Zealand’s 1000-odd tramping huts. Five bucks a night, sweet deal. “Write that I’ve been to 17.” He tramps like a trooper. Six hours, seven hours, eight hours, up, down, river crossings, snow, rain, whatever bro. He’s never happier than when arriving at a hut and exploring with other kids; building a fire, making boats out of sticks and racing them down the river. Take that, screen time. I would ask him if he’d like me to add anything else, but he’s already gone. Back to the iPad. Back to building the world’s greatest lifeboat.