Happy College Families

TANMAY SURI on the college family.

college children college marriage engagement marrage Relationships responsibilty role model


The day I changed my facebook status to ‘engaged’, around week 5 of fresher term, I received more wall posts than on any other, save only my birthday. Such was the incredulity of my back-home friends that the Tanmay they knew and loved had gone away to that strange university town and totally lost his mind, not pausing to think nor consult any of them before plunging into this life-changing decision. I hastily assured each of the concerned parties that I still maintained some perspective and sound judgement on the appropriate time course of relationship progression, and that I wasn’t really engaged, just college engaged. This raised a few eyebrows, but by the lack of wall posts when ‘engaged’ became ‘married’, I assumed that they all got the idea. It’s totally normal of course to have a ‘wife’ with whom you’ve had no sexual relations and ‘children’ barely a year younger than you, to whom you aren’t biologically related. Right?

Good Intentions

Regardless of the peculiarity of the position, at the beginning of my second year, I found myself as a college father, eager to meet those keen yet naive young things, my children, and show them the ways of Cambridge. Part of my eagerness to be a great dad, and put time and effort into fostering a relationship with my children, owed itself to the experience I had had with my own ‘parents’. Despite a banterous first family meal, and hosting an equally fun second meal, our contact somewhat fizzled out from there. While everyone else seemed to be getting repeated invitations to dine and go out on the lash with their parents, my ‘brother’ and I, invitation-less, were forced to sit drinking together in the dingy corridors of Clare’s first year accommodation, shedding the occasional tear and wondering why our parents didn’t love us. So I exaggerate highly, but there was certainly some lingering disappointment from which came my own conviction to give my children better than that which I had myself received.


For a biological or adopting parent, responsibility is fairly intuitive. For a college parent, the line between fulfilling responsibility (i.e. making sure your kids have a good time) and being irresponsible (i.e. giving your daughter so much to drink that she has to be taken to bed at 10pm) is blurry, controversial, and all too easy to cross (however good the intentions may be, as mine of course were). I, being what some would call the perpetrator in this particular first day debacle, would argue that this was a positive learning experience. Part of “showing them the ways of Cambridge” and helping them find out their limits early on, so as not to encounter a later embarrassing situation. However, even as the scapegoat, I don’t think I could claim to be fully responsible for the overall level of inebriation among our family that evening. A combination of factors, including the inadvertent burning of our main course, which diverted the attention from food to drink without hope of return, and the brutal shouts of “down it fresher!” by our fellow second years were indisputably instrumental in the later catastrophe.

Lessons from freshers’ week learned (assuming they have been…) how long are we as parents then supposed to continue offering some sort of peer support to our children? Drawing a parallel with the television campaign about dogs at Christmas, are college kids for life, and not just for freshers’ week? Though admittedly my enthusiasm has somewhat waned as many other things have taken over the precious one hundred and sixty eight hours that a week offers, I’m still keen to be available for my kids, as I think all parents should be. The wife and I are even going to arrange a (third!) family meal, and as far as I’m aware all the parents around me are equally committed, some for less noble reasons than others. Maybe it can be happy families forever after all.


I don’t even know if it’s appropriate to use this word, given that most people react to intra-college-family not-so-clean-fun with mild amusement, as opposed to ‘real’ incest which is usually met with deadly serious looks of deep disgust. Nevertheless, we are all aware that the hooking up of brother and sister, or father and daughter, or mother and daughter (or any of the other combinations) will inevitably happen within some family during freshers’ week, and equally aware that there are those that will stalk their college children on facebook to determine the potential to ‘tap them’ before they even come up (you know who you are). Is this taking advantage of a position of responsibility (or at least a position of superiority in terms of age/experience)?-possibly. At St. Aidan’s College, Durham, in the place of college parents they have ‘freshers’ reps’, who have to sign a contract on accepting the position that expressly forbids them from pulling freshers. I’m told serious consequences ensue if said contract is not upheld; could we perhaps take a lesson from this?

I may have strolled into the dangerous realm of a serious debate right there. However, be assured that I am not of the opinion that intra-family sexual frolics are in breach of any moral code. Given that the whole system of college families is set out with no strict guidelines as to the precise role and responsibility of a parent, apart from the provision of a meal for the kids on their first day, it seems petty to attempt at any point to curb social interaction between two similar aged, probably like minded young adults, regardless of the end to which this interaction seems to be heading. I see college families as not only beneficial to freshers but to everyone involved, as a means of encouraging inter-year bonding where it may otherwise be restricted to just the choir. With that said, bring on the grandkids!