My Son

Yesterday my son flew home to Seattle at the end of his annual summer visit. It’s never the easiest day for either of us, but by now we’re used to it. After all, this is the eighth year in a row. But there was something a little different about this trip. It might well be his last for a few years.

In 2005 I moved back to the UK from America. My wife and I had divorced, and for many reasons I chose to leave the US. I’d weighed things out very carefully before coming to a decision. After all, my son was there, just 10 when I left. But he could spend every summer here with me, we could talk every day – I’d bought him a cell phone and there was MSN for chatting, onscreen and even with a webcam.

We were lucky. As a writer I’d been able to work from home since he was born. We’d had the chance to spend time together, to form a real bond and become close. That made a huge difference. I believe that I could move away and that bond would remain strong.

I remember picking him up at Heathrow Airport in 2006, having to sign for him like a package. He’d flown on his own, looked after by cabin crew and escorted through the airport. I’d never, ever been happier to see someone. We took the train into London, then the underground, and finally another train north. He was tired – it’s a nine-and-a-half hour flight – but still wide-eyes and marvelling at how large and just how green England was.

The parting that year was tearful, on both sides, the journey back to my flat bleak and empty. Next year was better, even with the adventure of the 2007 floods that left us stranded overnight in Derby. He’d grown, as he has every year since.

In just over a week from now he’ll turn 18. He’ll spend his birthday at his university orientation. But he’s already a man, thoughtful, responsible, intelligent and creative. His loves – manga, anime, mathematics – aren’t mine, but that’s as it should be. We share other things. We talk three times a week, but that will change soon enough, I’m sure. The options for communication – email, Facebook, phone, Skype, Facetime – have grown exponentially. We can be in touch anytime. I can be there for him if he needs me.

He’s the very best part of me. I’m proud of who he’s become, although much of the credit for that goes to his mother. And now he’s about to begin this new life as a college student. He seems to be ready to take it in his stride. Me? I’m full of trepidation, although I’m sure he’ll be fine. I’m as anxious as…a parent. I’m lucky. The bond is still strong between us. But he’ll be making new friends, and have new plans for his year. Already he’s talking about taking classes next summer. Things will be different now. I always knew they would, he’s growing up and growing away into his own life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But I’ll always love him and be proud of him.

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Thinking About Tattoos

Back in 1989, when the Re/Search book Modern Primitives appeared, I was living in Seattle and saw the ripples it caused. Within a few very short years people who weren’t ex-cons, ex-service or gang members were wearing barbed wire and Celtic design tattoo bands around biceps and calves, and a healthy smattering of California’s finest tattoo artists had set up shop in the Emerald City.

Nowadays I’m back in England and until last week I worked a few hours a week in a corner shop. Both there and in supermarkets- everywhere, in fact – I’ve been quite amazed at the number of men of all ages with tattoos. There was a customer in his 20s, with a shaved head and menacing manner, with a scorpion on the side of his skull and a teardrop under his eye (and yes, I know what the latter is meant to signify). So many with tattoos on their necks. Women with them inside their forearms, on their backs, feet.

The speculation in the 90s, as the percentage of tattoos among white folk shot up, was that it was a need to belong, to feel part of a tribe. That was 20 years ago and tattoos are now more prevalent than ever, certainly in England. Is that sense of identity so lacking that the need to tattoos has become much greater? Does this explain the fact that so many EDL members seem to be tattooed in pictures (they all also seem to have shaved heads, but that’s another topic), this urge to belong?

Modern Primitives dealt not only with tattoos but also piercings, although (in England, anyway) the fad for them has passed.  That seems strange, given how widespread they became. But why do tattoos remain so vital? I do genuinely want ideas and opinions. If you have a tat, why did you get it? Do you want more? What do you think is the reason so many have/desire them?