Sunday 25 February 2018

Life lessons from a loving father

Every parent wants to teach their children to make good choices, but how often do we sit down and share our experiences and advice with them instead of just (hopefully) leading by example? Here, ahead of Father's Day, Peter Dunne outlines the refreshingly candid parental guidance - on everything from sex to money - he's given his three teenagers…

Peter Dunne, author of The Fifty Things
The 50 Things: Lessons for when you feel lost, Love Dad by Peter Dunne, published by Trapeze at £12.99

After turning 50, film industry consultant Peter Dunne began to lament what he perceived as a lack of major successes in his life - until he realised that his three greatest achievements were his children, Charlie, 19, Amelia, 16, and Esme, 14. When a friend prompted him to write down a "handbook for life" for his kids, Peter (pictured opposite) put his thoughts on diverse topics, from courage to religion, down on paper. The resulting book, The 50 Things: Lessons For When You Feel Lost, Love Dad, is what he describes as a "blueprint for liberal, thoughtful living in the modern world". Here, Peter - himself the son of celebrated Dublin novelist Lee Dunne - shares some of his advice for future generations…

Confidence

In my opinion, confidence is the trickiest balancing act going. When it's done right, it's based on an innate modesty that comes from knowing that we know what we're doing; but sometimes, if its foundations are not solid, it can become false and idiotic and there's nothing you can do to hide the smell.

Think of The X Factor or Britain's Got Talent auditions. We've all watched and admired the people who walk onto the stage, centred and calm, knowing that they can deliver on their promise to the judges. Watching the judges' expressions change as the performance starts is really amazing, no more so than when they heard Susan Boyle sing for the first time. But contrast that performance with many, many others, where the performer has walked onto the stage with, shall we say, a slightly different perception of their talents than the rest of us - perhaps one based on fantasy rather than reality - and you start to get the picture that overblown confidence can be a cruel and ugly prankster.

Calibrated correctly, though, confidence is an impenetrable breastplate in a well-worn suit of armour - you simply have to have it strapped on before you set forward onto the battlefield of daily life. Just having it on may make you brave enough for what lies ahead, may encourage you to try when you might once have turned back. And that may be the thing that makes all the difference.

It is definitely true that confidence is your friend. Confidence becomes that self-fulling prophecy. Just by having it, you change everything. Of course, sometimes you have to pretend a little, or let others inspire you. I remember learning to do a backward dive into the school pool. The first time was awful: I was consumed with nerves and literally had to talk myself up the steps to the board, trying not to look at the water. My swimming teacher was a former Australian Olympian and he said, "Dunne, I know you can do this. Take a deep breath and go." And something in his voice made me think, "If he thinks I can do this, then I can." So I dived and I wasn't awful at it, either. Of course, after that it just got easier every time.

As my willingness to embrace the risk grew, so did my confidence. And that's a vital skill for life because, trust me on this, no investor, or anyone else, ever stands behind an innovator or maverick who does not passionately believe in his own idea, and equally in his own ability to fulfil it and achieve success. So it's not enough simply to be confident, you have to inspire that same confidence in those around you. And how do you do that? Easy. By being confident.

Money

Money, it is often said, is the root of all evil. That's actually a misquote. It should read: "The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil." Though Mark Twain coined it slightly differently when he said: "The lack of money is the root of all evil."

The thing about money is that, like any form of energy, it's entirely neutral and it's entirely up to you how you use it. In the same way that electricity can be used just as effectively to execute people as it can to keep babies in incubators alive, so money can be used for good means or ill.

Too many people are going around with the idea that there isn't enough money or that you have to be dishonest to be wealthy or that money will corrupt you. That is all rubbish. All money does is give you choices. Money allows you to do things that you would not be able to do otherwise. But it does not, cannot, make you evil. If you are already a bad person, money will allow you to express it more easily, that's all.

The good news is that the opposite is also true. If you are a shining soul who wants to make the world a better and happier place, money will help you do that, too.

Oscar Wilde said: "When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life. Now that I am old, I know it is." You can always count on Oscar for a good quote, but the thing is, he was right. To me, money represents freedom, the freedom to make better choices. Not necessarily the freedom to do what I want - though doing that or not doing that would also be a choice - but the freedom to make that choice, rather than to be in the position of having no choice to make. To me, that is real wealth, having a free choice rather than a forced one. And if it is money which makes all the difference, so be it.

The point is to remember that money is just a value system that mankind invented to make life more straightforward at the market. Think about it: we invented money. It does not own us, so whether you let it rule you or ruin you is up to you.

And while I know that many of the situations in which people suffer daily can be readily alleviated by money, I urge you not to let your lives be ruled by it. It works for us, not the other way around.

Sex

Uh-oh, S.E.X. Awkward.

I have to admit this has been the hardest one to write, not least because it just felt more than a little uncomfortable, but also because I hadn't worked out exactly what it is I have to say to you about this. If you are old enough to talk like adults, you're old enough to hear what I have to say, so, with a couple of caveats, I'm ready to give it a go.

The first caveat is that I assume you have as much technical knowledge as you need right now, and that you have worked out your own moral compass, i.e, you know what you think is wrong and what is right and you are steering your behaviour accordingly.

The second caveat is that if you ever want to ask me anything, you are welcome to do so. I promise not to snigger.

Whatever you want to do, provided that it is legal, consensual and unlikely to result in death or injury, is fine with me. As your parent, my primary concern is your wellbeing and happiness, and whichever label you find yourself lining up behind is fine with me.

(Actually I find the labels disturbing because they are so limiting, but I understand why people like them. But please remember that the most interesting thing about a person is never going to be their sexual preference.)

I would like to think your mother and I have brought you up to love and respect other people. So when it comes to making love, I hope you will try to have experiences that are meaningful and positive for you and your partner. As the old expression goes, "whatever two consenting adults do in private" must be fine.

The key word there is 'private': everyone's sex life should be private. I mention this obvious fact because yours is the first generation to be born into the Age of Information. And amazing though that undoubtedly is, there are times when I yearn for the gentler, less immediate age in which I grew up, when people had more time to make mistakes without being found out, where acts committed out of naïvety were not immediately scrutinised by an unforgiving world and subjected to comment and ridicule by cynics and idiots.

You see, to the jaundiced eye of a fifty- something father, the internet looks like a pretty unforgiving beast. There is a famous quote by the Duke of Wellington which says: "Publish and be damned." The thing is, that expression can work two ways and I would say, when it comes to your sex life, if you publish, you may well be damned. It follows you everywhere.

Future employers will discriminate against people who have had colourful life experiences and been so indiscreet as to put them on Facebook or YouTube. I can hear someone in the background say something about people getting famous through sex tapes and I can't argue with that, but I would say this: is that really what you want to be known for?

Sex is a magical, mysterious, wonderful thing. It needs privacy to flourish. Put a spotlight on it and it may suddenly look sordid and ugly. As they say in cinemas these days: "Make sure your phone is turned off."

It is, after all, a universal truth that discretion is the better part of valour.

Extracted from 'The 50 Things: Lessons For When You Feel Lost, Love Dad' by Peter Dunne, published by Trapeze at £12.99

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