I’M becoming a bit of a Boris Johnson. You know the way he drops in obscure ancient Greek and Latin references as a sign that he has more money than you? Well, I’m at it now. (The references, not the money, in case you work for the Revenue.)
It’s all my son’s fault. Recently, I wrote that playtime with him involves me holding Captain America while he belts the bejaysus out of it with a Transformer. Let’s just say he gets more out of that than I do.
Then the other day I mentioned a hydra in passing. He said, what’s a hydra? I said, a mythical monster with nine heads and toxic breath. He looked at me like I was mad — there is a nine-headed monster out there with toxic breath and you’re wasting time trying to get me interested in Manchester United, he doesn’t say, because he doesn’t need to.
We headed to YouTube to learn a bit more. There wasn’t much there to satisfy a kid or his Dad, except for a few amateur things using photos narrated by geeky guys called Clive. I wasn’t up for leaving my five-year-old in the company of Clive and co., so we Googled it up, as my kids call it, and entered the world of Greek mythology.
It turns out the hydra guarded the underworld, could grow a head back if you cut it off, and had one immortal head, so don’t even go there on getting rid of him. However, Heracles (aka Hercules) did kill the beast in the end, by getting his mate to cauterise the wound immediately after cutting off ahead, and then burying the immortal head under a rock so it could never grow back. Wowsers.
My son has a lovely habit of putting his hand on my thigh when I read to him, to make sure I don’t run away. I could feel his grip tightening as the story unfolded. I wasn’t going anywhere though — I was having a ‘where have you been all my life’ moment with Greek mythology as well.
The stories are literally epic, full of twists and turns and flawed characters, where everyone gets their comeuppance in the end. So now my son and I have a shared interest in leather mini-skirted heroes killing bad guys.
This new connection is great. My daughter and I just get each other — that would be the case even if we didn’t have one single interest in common.
It’s more complicated with my son. (I know everyone says girls wreck your head, but from what I’ve seen and heard, boys can be even trickier.) It’s not that we don’t get on — we do — but I think men of any age need a thing they can focus on together to make a connection.
So off we went to the library and found Children’s Book of Mythical Beasts & Magical Monsters, which opened us up to Indian, Japanese and Norse mythology. (If you thought the Greeks had good myths, wait until you see the Vikings.)
My son’s favourite is still Greek, the one about the Minotaur being killed by Theseus. He stopped off on Naxos for a celebratory piss-up on the way home (Theseus, not my son), missed his boat back to see his father Aegeus, who then killed himself because he thought his son had died.
My wife reckons this is a bit involved for a five-year-old, but he seems to be lapping it all up. So am I. First of all, these myths are a great way to teach your kids that what goes around comes around. But mainly I love the connection it’s sparked off between the two of us. I’ve said it here before — you don’t become an angel just because you have kids. It’s a lot easier to hang out with your kids when you both get something out of it. So don’t be surprised if we meet and I try to bore you with the real story of Helen of Troy. And please don’t call me Boris Johnson.