And The Progress Prize For Best Father This Father’s Day Goes To…

conner-baker-480775-unsplashI’d like to say an early “Happy Fathers Day” to all those men for whom fatherhood hasn’t been quite what they expected, perhaps due to their own issues, the pressures of “toxic masculinity”, or perhaps because, (as in the old man’s case), they produced a square peg.

First of all, I should probably justify my use of “toxic masculinity” in this context, which The Good Man Project defines as: ‘the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness; where sex and brutality are yardsticks by which men are measured, while supposedly “feminine” traits—which can range from emotional vulnerability to simply not being hypersexual—are the means by which your status as “man” can be taken away,’ because I want to make sure that you don’t think that this is another attack on men. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Rather, it is an explanation for why some men struggle with relationships, aggression, depression and even suicide, because of the expectations leveled at them by society. It is why videos of tearful men cuddling newborns and greeting their dogs after long periods apart make women weak at the knees; it is why videos of sons coming out to accepting fathers are the best.

Margaret Mead said that “Children must be taught how to think, not what to think,” which (I believe) highlights the fine line between advising and judging our kids’ choices, as parents. We have to guide rather than direct. We have to be their consultants.

And let’s be honest, for some parents that’s easier than for others. While some parents rise to the challenge of a kid that is not textbook and who refuses to listen to a darn thing you say, some fall face down in the mud for a while before they get back up – like the old man has, in his struggle to accept Kurt’s unbridled passion for life and magnetic attraction to trouble.

That’s why I’m nominating him for a “progress prize” on Fathers Day this year.

It’s a sort of apology for all the times I used him as a boxing bag for my fears about our son or ignored his input because I was scared.

It hasn’t been easy for the son of a middle-class, ‘normie’ family (as Kurt describes neurotypicals), who was brought up in a traditional, white-picket-fence environment and for whom a crisis was when one of the boys kicked a ball over the neighbor’s fence and someone had to retrieve it. Parenting this larger-than-life son, who has turned every one of his old-fashioned values on their head, spat in the face of just about every law and convention ever created, and defied every parenting strategy, has been a learning curve for this mild-mannered man who can’t even book a table at a restaurant. It has probably taken the full twenty-one years of Kurt’s life for the old man to reach a full acceptance of him, as well as taking twenty-one years off his own; but he has been there, he has stayed the course.

There have been altercations – many vocal, some of them physical – and visits to the police together. He has been roadie, banker, and advisor to a child that has pushed him to the brink of his patience in his attempts (mostly futile) to knock some sense into educate our boy – and let me draw your attention  once again here to the fallacy that we are only given the stuff we can handle – and yet, while Kurt may not be the child either of us envisaged, I truly believe that one day the old man will thank him one day – if for no other reason than the shitload of content he has provided him with for dinner parties.

Parenting is the greatest and most arduous of journeys. It provides an education like no other and at times it is far from plain sailing. Our journey has been a rocky one, with lots of motion sickness along the way, and yet finally, I can see dry land on the horizon, and the old man helped get us there.

 

The Proudest Achievement Of The Modern World Should Be How We Break Down The Walls Of Inequality

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If ever there was a period of time where it’s possible to believe that genuinely bad people do exist, it is probably right now. With daily mass shootings in the US, terrorist bombings all over the world, the ongoing abuse of women and the surge of a far-right movement – it is hard not to believe that nature is as guilty as nurture in the production of the “bad seed”.

I’ve always sided more with the nurture side of the nature-nurture argument. I’ve always wanted to believe that there is fundamentally good in everyone and that even the pedophile is a victim – most likely abused as a child. I will never approve of capital punishment and I adhere to the belief that most bad behavior is learned behavior or emanates from the needs of those with no other choice for survival.

I watched a talk by Randy Pausch yesterday, a professor with terminal pancreatic cancer who gave his opinion before he died on how to Live The Right Way  .One of the points he made in his video was that ‘no one is pure evil – if you wait long enough they will show you their good side.’ That resonated with me.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that the reason it takes some people longer to navigate society’s “system”, is that it is designed for the majority. Improved support networks and education have increased our level of compassion and the aid we can give to those less fortunate, the minority, however, there is a long way to go before we erase inequality and embrace difference wholeheartedly.

We are better informed now as to why some people do better than others – we know now that it has less to do with IQ than opportunity. In recent years we have come to understand the social impact of “privilege” and we have a greater comprehension of mental illness –  two of the factors to influence inequality in the past.

Sometimes, during really bad days with our son, I used to wonder why I ever chose to become a parent, and there were times when I saw his “difference” as a threat or some sort of test of motherhood. I admit, I questioned if he was a bad apple and if it wasn’t for that nagging belief or some sort of intuition that kept telling me that I was wrong, I might have given up. I spent so many nights questioning why this child that I had made, who shared the same gene pool as his sister, had received the same opportunities, hated us so much and chose to remain so defiantly different to the rest of us, so opposed to our expectations in every aspect of his outlook.

Once, when I was looking for sympathy for my situation from a family member, he described my son as a “bad seed” – an accusation that made me so mad it felt like my organs had withered and died inside, such was the pain and shame. I knew he was wrong and in a way, those words steeled me to prove him wrong – I just needed to work on how to draw out the goodness in my son.  

If you don’t slide easily into a system created for the majority, you are judged, and that judgment creates fear. For the record, I can call my son a “bad seed” in those moments of anger when he burns the second hole in my new sofa or we get another middle of the night call from the police, but no-one else has that right unless he hurts them directly. Which he never has done.

I would describe his journey to adulthood as at the extreme end of teenage rebellion and perhaps if he’d had more liberal, less anxious parents who had embraced his spirit, things might have been different. I would handle things differently if I had the time again – in the same way that Randy Pausch handled his last months. I know now how much naïve and flippant judgments and criticism encourage isolation until the small problems snowball to bigger problems which then trigger poor self-esteem and anxiety, which in turn transmutes to anger.

Our tunnel vision for conformity is damaging; the effect on our gay population – who continue to be victims of harassment and abuse in spite of the West’s progress in terms of embracing difference – an obvious example. Let’s hope that yesterday’s vote changes the journey for all of the LGBTQI community in Australia, not just the majority. Many of their young community has lost or taken their lives due to their inability to tick the right boxes – boxes that were created centuries ago when it was still okay to have slaves and women couldn’t vote. Until this bill is passed, their children and partners do not have the same rights as those in heterosexual relationships, and if the outcome had been different yesterday, there is no doubt in my mind that there would have been a regression, that the seed of condemnation would have been re-sown and fertilized by the far-right and ignoramus’ that spearhead religion in our country. – even though we live in a society that prides itself on fairness.

The freedom that living in the western world affords us is that we have choices – the choice who to love, what to eat, whose altar to pray at – the choice how to live our lives, for most people. We were given that choice yesterday – a fair choice where everyone’s views were respected and taken into account, as they should be in a democracy, and on this occasion, good beat evil.

The Courage To Be Different

Wine Club was as messy on Saturday as a girlfriend predicted. What’s a girl to do when faced with the challenge of an esky overflowing with the best Chardonnays?

 

Such shockingly poor self-discipline determined that Sunday would be a write-off, a day for recovery, when I could lament my poor choices, suffering liver and middle-aged intolerance to just about anything fun. mountain-climbing-802099_1280

 

Fortunately, around midday I felt vaguely human and managed to drag my sorry ass to the couch, and the old man and I managed somehow to compromise on a movie called ‘Meru’. To be honest, I’d planned to doze my way through the movie because in general, films about climbing, mountains and being cold all the time are not exactly my idea of fun, but it was better than the alternative of some fantasy nonsense with dragons.

 

But the documentary turned out to be a real eye-opener and a wonderful lesson in parenting.

 

It’s about three climbers who attempt to reach the summit of Meru – a very big mountain… located somewhere near India. ‘Meru’ is a story of courage, commitment, friendship and trust, with the inevitable dose of madness that goes hand in hand with any film about mountaineering. The photography and filming of the team of three as they dangle from dodgy looking ropes, sleep in tents suspended from the side of a mountain some 20,000ft in the sky and fight their inner demons is breath-taking, even from my position of safety, prostrate on the sofa with a bag of Pods for company and an achievement level of zero.

 

And it made me think about how obsessed our culture has become with celebrating the success of brain-poor celebrities for their looks and sex tapes, rather than the true achievers and heroes that should rightfully be the role models to our children. 

 

It was the personal stories of triumph that made this film. One of the team, Jimmy Chin, a Chinese film maker/mountaineer/extreme skier/superman talked about his lifelong passion for climbing and the strength he required to go against his parents dream, and effectively drop out of society to become a climbing bum, before he had any success with which to appease them. This big man was tearful as he told the camera how he had refused to push himself to his absolute craziest limit of risking death for glory until his mother passed away, because he had promised her he wouldn’t die on a mountain.

 

Jimmy now gets published on the front pages of the best climbing and photography glossies such as the National Geographic.

 

And it made me think about Kurt who (holds breath) is finally turning a corner. And I know that we may be in another ‘one step forward phase’ and soon we’ll be three steps back again, but I have to remain hopeful. Who knows what has finally incited this positive change, but I’ll take it for whatever it is. Perhaps it’s because some maturity has kicked in, or perhaps we have a better understanding of his complicated persona and needs and have allowed him the time he needs to breathe and evolve at his own pace, rather than the expectation set by society.

 

Jimmy’s achievements prove that no-one deserves to be written off at eighteen, like society has a tendency to do when kids stumble at the first major hurdle of mainstream education or don’t follow a conventional path. My proudest personal achievements in life have come about since my thirties and as I write this post, a print-out of Part 1 of my manuscript is taunting me from the coffee table, questioning if I have the courage to take it the whole way.

 

Jimmy had that courage and Kurt will find his too, in his own time.