I have 3 dads and 2 moms.
Now, before you starting referencing your Mendel and saying that it is not biologically possible to have so many parents, I should clarify that this is St Andrews and so you can assume that family members are academic, related by booze rather than blood. Our quirky little tradition of building academic families is a difficult one to explain and harder still to understand, even for those of us who have experienced it. Basically, third years adopt first years through a wide variety of tactics that include, but are not limited to, returning to residence halls, picking from sports teams and societies, or drunkenly asking the person squished against you at the Union bar if they want to be adopted. I met my first dad during Fresher’s Week my first year: this was back before the Union was renovated and getting a drink at the bar was like fighting for water during a drought. I was crushed against my future dad’s back by the frenzy of the crowd behind me. When the pressure lessoned and I finally peeled myself off, I apologized and he adopted me. Now most people would have been happy after that, the matter of finding an academic dad over and done with. But I like my options, so when father number 2 asked to adopt me during a Judo social, I accepted. He was, after all, the academic son of a good friend of mine, so accepting his offer meant getting an awesome academic grandfather in the process. At this point, I was pretty content, but eventual father number 3 went and adopted my best friend at the time as well as my roommate and after more than a few shots of vodka, I was convinced that one more dad couldn’t possibly hurt. My mothers were a little less dramatic: one adopted me during a Mermaids social and the other I gained when father number 3 got academically married and mother number 2 folded me into a hug and her family.
Academic families can be your support system, both academically and socially. They are the ones that invite you to house parties, initiate you into the social scene of a sports team, show you the ropes in a new society, and give you advice on module choices and strategic lecture attendance. My advice to those still seeking parents is this: find someone with common interests and a likeable personality when sober. My first dad never really organized any family events; he brought my siblings and I along to one of his DJ gigs, but then proceeded to never speak to us again until Raisin, when he dropped the 15 pound bottle of Captain Morgan’s we had gifted him 20 seconds earlier. This happens sometimes because third years are busy and there isn’t always time to make the extra effort to organize get-to-know-you family events. Hence why being adopted by people who live in your hall or play your sport or are on committee for your society is nice, because it allows you to see them on a regular weekly basis and it gives them a platform to talk to you without making too much additional effort or setting aside chunks of time. I loved my second and third dads because I saw them more: dad number 2 always came out to the pub after judo training sessions and I spent countless hours talking to him about my past, my future, and everything in between until the Union closed at 2am. He bought me thoughtful, amazing Christmas presents and has even come back to visit me despite graduating this past year and moving to Dundee to continue his medic training.
Your experience with academic parents will vary depending on the person and their commitments: if they make an effort, the relationship can grow strong and result in more memories than just the hazy ones of Raison Monday as you’re painted green like the Hulk. But if they don’t, then you might never see them again after Raisin and even on Raisin they may leave you to smoke hookah with a random group of strangers. For better or for worse, your academic parents are only human and despite the fact that they may seem to have it together a little more than you do, as a third year I can definitively say that life is just as complicated and confusing for us as it is for Freshers. Be patient, relax, and treat your parents like you would any other person: get to know them and just be yourself. They can help you, buy you drinks, and give you life advice: but only if you are being you and not holding back. Like any family, there are dysfunctions, but I can say I’ve made some fantastic relationships through academic families and it’s somehow comforting to have parents to talk to, have a drink with, and just enjoy the company of. With a town as small as St Andrews, you end up being distantly related to basically everyone and it’s fun to sort through your connections and meet uncles, aunts, even fairy godmothers (yes, that can be thing). For all the greatness that is free booze, foam fights, and Raisin Sunday, the best part about academic families, for me at least, is their ability to bring people together as friends and truly as family. Cheesy as that may sound, it is true, so enjoy this unique St Andrews experience and try not to blackout every time you see your parents.