When ordinary people make the most extraordinary idols

I met one of my idols last week. While she is one of the most talented people I know, she is also one of the most ordinary.

When I was a boy, I had a number of idols. These were generally sporting heroes: Arsenal’s Liam Brady, quarterback Joe Montana, Formula 1 world champion Ayrton Senna. Each of them possessed sublime skills that set them apart from mere mortals. Even in my wildest dreams, I knew I could never hope to match them.

Do our kids have idols of their own? I don’t know about Kara, who isn’t yet five, but I suspect car-mad Isaac and Toby would name the former Top Gear trio of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May.

The problem with today’s idols, particularly sporting ones, is that they seem further out of reach than ever. They are untouchable and frequently out of touch with mere mortals, living behind security gates and earning more in a year than many will in a lifetime. And many of them turn out to have feet of clay when it comes to their financial and (extra-)marital affairs.

Do the rich and famous offer the best examples of people our kids should idolise? Rarely.

So who should our idols be? Well, sometimes they’re a bit closer to home – and a bit more like us than we realise.

The writing idol

Which brings me back to last week.

So there I was, heading in to London on the train. A four-hour round-trip for a two-hour book launch and a chance to snatch a two-minute chat with Sarah Turner, blogger and Sunday Times bestselling author of The Unmumsy Mum. Oh, and to scoff free prosecco and canapés, which when you’re a middle-aged parent definitely counts as a ‘big night out’.

I remember the first time I met Sarah. It was at a blogging conference nearly 1½ years ago. She gave a talk, after which she stayed behind to talk to a group of us. I was, to put it mildly, starstruck. Over the course of a 15-minute chat, the most I managed to utter was something along the lines of “buh-uh-huh”. I doubt she remembers that but I’m still mortified by the memory of it.

Anyhow, long story short: since then we’ve become friends over social media. I interviewed her for my podcast ahead of the release of her first book and she has always been kind enough to seek me out for a chat when we have both been at the same events.

I love Sarah’s writing but the thing that most impresses me about her is how normal she is. Her stock-in-trade is her brutal honesty about the highs and lows of parenthood and how it’s okay to accept that a mum’s life is imperfect, annoying or just mundane. When I describe her to people, I always say that she is exactly the same in real life as she is in her writing – and that is meant as a genuine compliment in a world where every blogger is striving to find an authentic voice that combines the seemingly polar opposites of being unique while talking about everyday parenting experiences that make you nod along and go, “yep, been there too”.

I don’t for one minute think I’m as good a writer as Sarah – that’s not false modesty, I’m simply not – but I can associate and empathise with her in a way that I can’t with, say, J K Rowling or Wayne Rooney. It’s that fact that she is so ordinary that makes her so extraordinary. I know it’s a cliché when I say that I couldn’t wish for success to happen to a nicer person. However, it’s 100% true.

I don’t idolise many people as an adult the way I did as a kid. I do, however, idolise Sarah. (Although it’s possible she might use the word ‘stalking’.)

The parenting idol

Thinking about it a bit more, I’ve realised there has always been another, constant idol in my life: my father. He is a hero to me not because he has done anything extraordinary but because he has always been there for me in the ordinary moments, setting an example, nudging me in the right direction. Even when I haven’t realised I needed his support, he has been there to provide it without fanfare.

While I owe a lot to my mother too, through that father/son dynamic I owe much of what is good about the man I have become to my dad.

There is an important lesson in all this, I think. If a fellow blogger can be an idol and if one of my own parents can be an idol, then I can be too for my own children. I don’t need to look to the celebrity world to find appropriate idols for my kids to aspire to. I should be looking closer to home – or, indeed, looking at home.

I wonder if the kids will think of their ordinary father as their idol one day. I hope so.

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