I’ve recently become a godfather. Twice. In the space of a fortnight, I have gained responsibility for two babies’ moral education, while still being years from completing my own. Having bumbled along for decades with an ethical outlook that didn’t go far beyond a horror of tears and sanctimony, I now have to make some serious intellectual commitments. Should I try to form my godly brood into what Aristotle referred to as megalopsychoi, great-souled men? Yet he expected these paragons of virtue to move leisurely and speak in a baritone, and neither quality is within easy grasp of a toddler. When they’re in tears about the size of present I give them – or the lack of one – should I tell them not to worry because all property is theft anyway? Perhaps Nietzsche was right all along and I should cheer them on as they riotously impose their beastly will on siblings, parents and nannies.
Even more fraught than these ethical dilemmas of how to guide people who don’t speak much, is the question of what to actually give them. Buying presents for my friends’ kids fills me with fear at the many ways I could mess up. Gender norms are a minefield. Get a blue outfit for a boy and you’ll be branded a chauvinist. Yet giving a unicorn to a little tyke whose sole interests are gawking at fire engines and eating mud seems to be little more than a preening display of one’s own wokeness.
Many toys seem to have been spawned by TV programmes. Not having children of my own, I’m grossly ignorant of which of these shows are considered enlightening and which are deemed no more healthy for toddlers than a vaping habit. Object attachments at this age are magnetic: in one friend’s household I’m known as Skittleman, even though the present that occasioned the nickname was long ago dispersed or defenestrated. And modern parenting treats marginal gains more seriously than the British cycling squad. I’m scared that an infatuation with a misplaced piece of “Paw Patrol” merchandise will ultimately be blamed for deflecting young Florian from his intended trajectory of Harvard-McKinsey-Burgundy-soaked retirement, sending him into a career in the charity sector with a side hustle in organic marijuana cultivation.
I certainly don’t want to be the person who introduces the unblemished offspring of screen-averse parents to the Peppa industrial complex. Three years on and my dog-tired friends will be spending their spare time gigging as Uber drivers or Deliveroo riders, just so their beloved child can wear Peppa dungarees and carry Peppa backpacks as she walks through a kitchen relayed in Peppa-embossed linoleum to eat her dinner of Peppa-shaped reconstituted potato waffles and drink a Peppa-flavoured carbonated beverage.
Perhaps I’m approaching the problem the wrong way. What my new godchildren really need is a portfolio of cryptocurrency futures or a debenture on Elon Musk’s Mars mission so they can wave goodbye to the boiling planet from a window seat. Sure, it won’t seem a fraction as fun as a multisensory lump of plastic that plays “Let it go” on an endless loop. But I know they’ll thank me one day.•