What advice would you give your younger self?
Last week, I was driving back through France after a glorious family holiday when I suddenly realised that, 25 years earlier, I had ridden a motorbike in the opposite direction on the very same road out of Le Mans.
You know the saying ‘someone just walked over my grave’? Well, I got that shivery feeling – only it felt like I’d just passed myself on life’s great highway.
Back in 1991, I was fresh out of university and so broke that I had to sleep rough on the French roadsides and eat baguettes and cold hot dog sausages.
I remember being constantly gripped by a terror that everyone else seemed happier and richer than me, their beautiful lives sorted. Some things never change.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
Then, in a moment of sheer romantic indulgence, I wondered what advice I, as a dad, would give to that lad. I wanted to reach out across time and say: ‘Don’t worry, mate – life will work out. Just give it time. It won’t be perfect, but then perfect doesn’t exist.’
But it’s doubtful that the 21-year-old biker would have listened to the 46-year-old dad. I mean, what kind of loser drives an MPV with a roof rack and a ‘baby on board’ window sticker?
So, I’d have started with: ‘You will get your petrol syphoned off tomorrow night while you lie sleeping on the beach, but don’t worry – you’ll make it home, and look back and laugh.’
I’d say: ‘Worrying about money will never go away, but take it from me – money can’t buy happiness. You’ll realise that when you get plenty in your thirties and find that your life is still empty if there is no love in your heart.’
I’d tell him: ‘Stop being so hard on your mum. She didn’t choose her new man over you. She just chose a new route to happiness. You can’t choose your family, but they are the only people who will love you unconditionally. Just wait and see.’
Above all I’d tell me to stop fretting about endless tomorrows – just embrace today. One day, there’ll be no tomorrow.
The 21-year-old me thought life would end if he moved in with a girl, got a mortgage or had kids. I’d tell him they are just new chapters. True contentment happens when you surrender the notion that life is all about you. But you won’t realise that for another 17 years yet.
NO ONE IS PERFECT
So, to love… I’d say: ‘There’s no such thing as a perfect girl and, anyway, you’re hardly perfect yourself. You will travel the world looking for The One, but she was just down the road all along.’
I turned to the woman I still haven’t made my wife after 16 years and thought ‘it’s time to get married’. Then I looked to the back seat, where Dolly, two, was dozing, and smiled at my boy, Sonny, now seven.
The answer to life isn’t on a beach in Thailand, or in a big house, or at the bottom of a bottle – it’s right under your nose.
I can’t pass advice on to my younger self, but I can learn from all my mistakes.