Recently I had a faded old tattoo covered up with a much brighter, much bigger version, and I took my five-year-old and two-year-old along to watch. Now I know what you’re thinking: a brand new tattoo, turning 40, is it part of some sort of mid-life crisis? That’s what my wife was thinking anyway.
As for taking the kids, that's something, unlike my fresh ink, that we agreed on. I was surprised at some of the flak we got from friends though. I get it – tattoo parlours don't have the best reputation, and usually make the news through either gunfire or spontaneous combustion. But these are far from the norm, and in a day and age when sleeve tattoos are getting about as common as the arms they're inked on, should tattoo parlours really still have a bad rep?
Les Rice runs LDF (Love, Death and Faith) Tattoo in Newtown and it’s a professional, well-run place to get stuck with needles. Les has three kids of his own and his eldest daughter has even contributed some designs to the studio. He also has designs by his son and daughter on his thigh and arm, so I felt comfortable asking to bring my two sons along.
We did it because, after seeing the initial outline for the tattoo, our five-year-old showed quite an interest. He drew his own tatts in texta and did some fine faux needlework on the two-year-old’s face, which meant he would never get work in retail. But he is a bit soft, so we thought the needle thing would put him off. Or, as my wife succinctly put it, “I want him to see just how stupid they are.” When we gave him the pointy end of how tattoos were applied it was a love/hate thing, and he wanted to come along and see.
Turning up to watch was pretty uneventful. The whole family stood among the designs in the front – Jesuses, mermaids, vixens and the odd smoking monkey – before heading upstairs, where my tattoo artist, Charlie, started to colour in the outline.
We did it because we thought the needle thing would put him off. Or, as my wife succinctly put it, 'I want him to see just how stupid they are'
After taking great interest in the tattoo gun itself, it took only a few minutes of actual tattooing for my son to get bored and want to leave. Unfortunately I had another five hours to go. Having gone for a couple of sessions previously I noted that this time the nearby artists and customers kept the language family-friendly, but otherwise didn’t bat an eyelid at a couple of preschoolers wandering in. As one artist put it, “They allow kids in hospitals and we're just as hygenic, so what’s the big deal?”
Tattoo parlours weren't always as child-friendly as LDF, as Les pointed out later that day. He used to work in a rougher joint in Glasgow, and it didn't allow kids. They even had a sign that said, quite bluntly, “Children Not Allowed”. Les said that the owner, a no-nonsense Glaswegian, once saw a father bring in his small boy. He walked over to the child, bent down on one knee and in his best grandfatherly voice said, “Do you know what that sign says, little fella?”
“Yes,” said the little boy.
“Then do me a favour and tell your f***ing father.”
Nothing like that on our visit, and when I got home, smarting and wrapped in cling wrap, I asked my eldest son what he thought about body art now.
“I like the look of your tattoo,” he said. “But I don’t like it as much as not having a bleeding arm.”
Job done, surely.
This article first appeared on Daily Life.