Our Son the Schnauzer, or The Hunt for Male Role Models

You could do worse for a role model than a big-hearted dog. If you are a young man, you could do much, much worse

Our son thinks he is a dog. It stands to reason--his best friend is a Jack Russell-mini schnauzer cross named Scout who has lived with us for two years. Our son is only 14 months old, so as far as he is concerned Scout is part of what it means to be home. He is a tail to pull and a beard to tug and very often a source of fulsome baby giggles.

As role models go, the boy has chosen well. Scout has by far the best attitude of anyone in our household. He is always happy to see new faces, he greets each day with an excited trot down the hall, he recognises need when he sees it and does what he can to fulfill it, which generally involves biscuity kisses and a hot little back applied to the sufferer's body--anywhere handy to a short four-legged guy; a leg, the base of the spine. There are depths of understanding in those brown eyes.

Of course, the boy also has his father to look up to and emulate and they already have a special thing going on. But as soon as he is off to pre-school, there will be other people in his life who help shape him, and some of them will be popular cultural icons, the very people I enjoy poking fun at. I can live with Bob the Builder and Thomas the Tank Engine. It's the likes of Justin Bieber, patron saint of glossy hair, and those bland kids off High School Musical who worry me. It's all very well for me to watch The Hills in an ironic fashion, but as far as I can tell, kids don't catch on to irony until they are safely at university. In the meantime they fall for Miley Cyrus and Zac Efron.

So as the mother of a baby boy who will soon be looking outside the home for role models, I am a little alarmed at what's on offer. He has a couple of teen-aged male cousins he thinks are pretty cool, especially the one who gave him his very own Spider Man action figure, and long may that last. When I see teen-aged boys in the newspaper and on TV I am rarely impressed, and lately quite scared. Common wisdom would have it that they are, by and large, binge-drinking brats who drive recklessly, flout authority in all forms, and score poorly on national tests. The cousins are nothing like this--miraculous if newspapers and current affairs programmes are to be believed.

The pop world offers the aforementioned Bieber, the cardboard-cutout Jonas Brothers, whose appeal escapes me, various bejewelled R and B guys, and, of course, a factory line of American Idol wannabes. It would seem the last word in masculine appeal on Idol this season is an annoying blonde guy who shakes his hair around a lot. I know he was voted off, but he was without question the tweenie heart-throb and he'll be flicking his hair on our screens for months to come. Sigh.

Reality TV is a weigh-station of mediocrity. I have never watched Jersey Shore but the main guy there is an orange-tinted "guido" with outrageously sculpted abdominal muscles he calls "the situation" because "you know, that there, that's the situation". I think English may be his second language. Shows like The City and Keeping Up with the Kardashians parade the himbos, men who look good but have very little of interest to say. Good times for these guys involve driving around in stretch Hummers, drinking Jagermeister, texting the honeys. Dare I say it, but I want more for my boy.

The sports world is a better source of role models in some respects--these are guys who are admired for actually doing something, even if it is being paid huge salaries for playing ball games--but there are high-profile duds on offer here too. Cheaters, liars, self-involved pretty boys, dirty dogs, and dumbos who might not be able to find the first-class lounge at Heathrow if it weren't for their wives. Local sports heroes aren't much more appealing, to my mind. Those post-match chit chats on the sidelines are excruciating.

Which brings us back to the dog, curled up on a wool blanket next to the boy, snoring. Baby's latest trick is to silently slide out Scout's dog door, accessing the garden by way of a low deck with no railing. He does it with great care but I run out into the garden squealing every time. I was taking the boys for a walk the other day when I found out that our neighbours have been watching this little bit of theatre with concern for some weeks.

One of the neighbours stopped to say hi, and asked how "the little darling" was doing. "We've seen him, on the deck by himself," he reported. "My wife said, 'If the mother doesn't come out soon I am going over the fence!'"

Oh, the shame of leaving your child to play puppies in the yard unsupervised. Well, he wasn't alone, he was his best friend, who is very responsible and caring, has great hair and never pounds Jagermeister shots. That we know of.