As a child I had to endure so many of my father’s pranks and gags, nothing was as it seemed and everything had a hidden moral.He tells me now that he did it to me from a young age. The “getting the joke” was always one step ahead of my age, so that I had to figure it out with a furrowed brow, apparently to engage my little brain on a higher level.
This is one such example of his moral-jokes. I was a weekly boarder at Clarendon High School in East London and at age 17, probably a bit too cool . I was the first girl in my year learning to drive (that’s kudos man) and he made such a HUGE point of “This Friday, I am going to fetch you at 3pm and you are going to drive. I got several reminders about our date, the odd phonecall and a message from the school office that was read out to me in front of the class. Needless to say, we now had the rest of the cool gang all waiting noses pressed up to the glass door at 3pm, to see me “kangaroo petrol” (when you don’t know how to work the clutch yet) away from the boarding school.
We were craning our necks to see Dad’s regular car turn up, but this huge, big, army style, clapped out truck with flapping, torn canvass sides was in our way. Annoying van – “Sammy’s Fresh Fruit and Veg” – move! . Imagine the stunned silence when out hops my short but energetic Greek dad and bounds up to the front door. “Come on Mands, time for your first driving lesson!” My friends all started laughing – “No way….”. I meekly followed thinking “less protest, less attention!”
We climbed into the front of the truck with the gear stick nearer my chin than my knee – and a huge steering wheel I had to peep over. My heart was in my throat, and he said to me “Come on, you’re going to do this… and if today you can drive this old thing, then tomorrow you’ll be able to drive anything at all”.
He took me to a deserted race track. We drove, and drove some more, laughed and did alot of kangaroo petrol! But drive I did – and well. Two hours later, I drove back to boarding school and hooted like mad at all my friends – strangely this time -not embarrassed. I had mastered it.
Now, I drive off-road, I’ll try a 4×4 on a dune, I’ll tow a boat or a horsebox if I must, I drive in snow to Alps and put chains on my wheels, I drive in the centre of London, or Paris and Athens. Many of my friends will say “sheesh you’re mad to drive here” but I know, because Dad told me “if you can drive this, you can drive anything” so I believed him.
The moral of his moral-joke , was nothing to do with the driving. As a parent, he instilled in me a feeling of specialness. “If anyone can do it, you can”. Is it not funny that if someone we love and respect, believes in us, genuinely believes in us, we start believe it ourselves. When something looks impossible, somehow I find myself starting at the beginning, because I know I can do it. I have a natural inclination to do the same with my girls now, but I realise now that it takes some good play acting on the parents part, to install confidence when all you want to do is step in and provide a solution or do it quicker. That would be easier, but not clever. Only took me 3 kids to realise just how well he worked his cunning plan!
I’ll tell my Dad of a problem one of the girls are facing. At one stage, my eldest (age 9) was being bullied at school. Her school shoes were stolen at break, her science experiment ruined, prank calls all times of the day and night, being constantly excluded from games. One girl even colluded to get the class to sign a petition that she did something (that she did not do) and that if every girl signed it, the teacher would have to believe it. One of the parents called me to tell me her daughter felt bad about signing it. The solutions I provided were not really working, probably because I felt upset too that the school was being permissive of this behaviour by being tolerant of it, it went on for well over a year – and her confidence plummeted.
True to style – Dad explained through stories, what he thought caused people to pick on others, an inferiority complex of sorts that in order to validate yourself, you make someone else feel bad. The stories always allow her to draw her on own conclusions. He feeds her with genuine (deserved) compliments and creates small challenges for her in which she can triumph. He always implies to her that she is special – and he is planting the seeds at every opportunity for her to nurture her own self love. Priceless grandparenting.
One of his favourite prank-gags when he meets us when we land in CT is to skulk around in some wacky outfit/hat/moustache/granny’s outfit! The girls are always so excited to be the first to figure out which nutter in the arrival area is their beloved Papou (Grandpa in Greek). So they did the same for him at Heathrow, much to the enjoyment of many other passengers, but mostly to his pure delight.
The Stergianos madness, long may it live …!