Who’s your Daddy? Confessions of a Cambridge daughter

Catherine Hall 8 October 2007

I will be honest, the college parent-child system bemuses me and generally leaves me cold. Perhaps it is because my forays into this supposedly loving world have been a little disappointing to say the least. I am the college version of a latchkey kid: abandoned at matriculation with a tag around my neck declaring my availability to any would-be mothers.

Being a New Hallite, I am fatherless to start with, an immaculate conception I like to think. The familial odds are stacked against me. I encountered my college mother only once, at the freshers’ week mother-daughter tea party, designed to promote bonding over jam-smeared scones. Alas, it was not to be.

My ‘mother’ arrived, introduced herself in three words and promptly buggered off to meet her boyfriend, my unknown step-father. I never heard from her again. Call the Child Support Agency.

I am inclined to believe my tragic orphaned status is for the best. I never fail to be slightly alarmed when encountering seemingly normal students referring to one another as ‘Daddy’, and I almost choked when overhearing the casual statement, ‘so-and-so is sleeping with his grandmother’.

Never a pleasant thought! Where does one draw the line? An extended lineage of grandparents, cousins et al.appears, to my cynical gaze, to be verging on the ridiculous.

In the same way as one is conditioned into approaching a school ‘buddy’ scheme with apprehension, I cannot shake off my doubting nature when it comes to adopting a stranger for a ‘relative’.

Surely it is better to form one’s own friendship groups without relying on second years for parenting duties? They are just going to graduate in a few years’ time and leave you anyway. Thus speaks the abandoned child within.

Perhaps this antipathy stems from my inner pain and turmoil at being so cruelly rejected? Or is it the classic maternal fears as I await my new arrival that are threatening to overwhelm me? (Will I be a good enough mother? What if she doesn’t like me? To what extent should I allow her to make her own mistakes?) The basic premise of an older student offering advice and guiding dewy-eyed freshers into the world of Cambridge, from overseeing the first Facebook login to explaining why Girton is at the very edge of the map, appears promising.

It is when college families take on a mafia-like quality that the idea becomes thoroughly sinister. I still maintain that one should really refrain from calling a 20-year-old student ‘Daddy’ unless he has fulfilled the correct biological requirements.

Catherine Hall