I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn’t matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art.
Here we sit beneath the old oak tree.
You gesture to the grey castle yonder,
where clouds encircle its piercing towers like halos
drifting in the carefree wind of the turquoise sky above
the rolling plains of lush greenery punctuated by small
clumps of violets and roses basking in the clean glory of
fresh spring rays descending from the hallowed circle
reigning king amongst the stars.
You speak of the fairy rings and fairytales and
fairies flittering from bloom to bloom, trailing sparkling dust
that falls upon the elves, singing their poetry beneath
sharp pine trees; dwarves in drunken merrymaking; birds arcing above
to cast their shadows on paved roads and thatch roofs
where the humans thrive in coastal towns and the sea salt and
sea spray mist into the air, drawing the aroma of life and fish.
You tell me of the banquets of the royalty, the soft fragrance of
freshly baked bread from the baker in the town plaza
where bards play their flutes and traders market their exotic wares
drawn from worlds where the sky and sea kiss in harmony to the symphony
of noise drifting from the valley before us. Listen and hear its
I hear nothing but the howling wind, and see nothing but plains.
No man is still,
but moves: growing, swaying, falling, growing…
White leprosy spreads.
And it grows again, stronger, faster,
Until it conquers the blackened grass on mountaintops,
Until it wins the age old war,
Until it stands alone, victorious,
A fleeting victory of wisdom
Before it falls…
And is swept away with the thicket of black strands to
Wage its war again.
Reams of scribbled paper stretch from room
to room beneath the pen held gingerly in his hand,
a simple calculation metamorphosed into a beast grander than
all of what mankind can offer.
It is a simple debate of expenditure, weighing the pros and cons
of one over the other.
A simple calculation recalculated, simple statements written,
rethought, reconsidered, recalled, retorted, each
variable prised from the corners’ shadows and basks
in the glory of revelation, each connection links thoughts
like spiderweb silk, threading ink on white canvas across
generations of thought, through layers of intricate numbers, delicate
words, unconsidered possibilities…
Scribbled paper stretch from his room to the end
and turn to dust,
long before he will ever know,
the only variable, brutally punishing, ignored.
Years I tell you! Goddamned years of tinkering, experimentation, funded by the world’s richest billionaires! It took years, I tell you, but it was finally fruitful. Success!
It took just one small spark to set up the chain of events, really. A minute observation kickstarted a need to investigate. At first, my team and I put the little critters in miniature glass cages to observe their movement. We tried to coerce them into a seemingly impossible feat, but no amount of food would encourage them.
Undeterred, we continued pushing the edge of science! We threw some of the little critters into ice water for a swim but all that happened was death. We got our hands on a dying nuclear reactor and zapped some with radiation, but all we managed to do was make them glow green. One of our researchers got bitten and became a monstrous vermin, who died when his sister threw an apple at him, which lodged into his spine. Dr Samsa, you shall be missed. No one ever said death wasn’t a scientific occupational hazard.
After failed radiation studies, we spent some twenty billion dollars to send five different groups of the little critters into space and subject them to the zero-gravity environment of outer space. While waiting for their journey to Pluto and back, we conducted more experiments in the meantime. We tried to breed them for specific traits, but all we managed to do was give them the mental capacity of a politician. Fortunately, we incinerated them before they could rule the world. Some of the little creatures were brought to volcanic conditions, but they failed miserably when Yellowstone National Park erupted. We had to contend with flooding due to sea level rising, but science will not stop for ten metre raises in sea level. One was unfortunately crushed by an Aperture Science Companion Cube, a company we had swallowed for their interesting scientific experiments.
The most striking experiment came some two hundred and fifty years later. After developing the Philosopher’s Stone, the Elixer of Life and discovered the Fountain of Youth, we still did not manage to accomplish our goal. Years of genetic manipulation had not resulted in favourable results, but one particular individual stood out. One of our researches accidentally shot it with a growth ray, causing it to grow into a terrorising monster. By good fortune, one of the Pluto-going experiments returned some three thousand years early and crushed the monster we had inadvertently created. My fellow researcher won a Novel Prize for the growth ray.
But you know, finally, after spending some fifty generations’ worth of GDP, having survived the end of the Mayan calendar, the Aztec calendar and the invasion of aliens, we had finally done it. The lone critter in the small glass globe resting on my wooden desk was happily observing its surroundings. The ant was happily sitting down. Another life mystery solved!
What do we expect of mothers and fathers, if parents are “people with vested, active and personal interest in a child’s growth and well-being“? Yet again, the common social belief of the mother and father units in a family are often people of authority above children, who are not only responsible for the child’s well-being (ie, as a parent), but also as the monetary source of finances for letting parenting happen. Mothers and fathers are valuable in society, but for anyone who is from any broken family (or, perhaps, any family in general), that ideal, media-publicised perfect family is grossly hyperbolic. The reality is that, mothers and fathers, like any other person in the world, are subject to ideology, and are often as guilty of the very things they speak against as parents to their children. If mothers and fathers are not any better than what parents can be, what are their obligations in spite of the fact that their own children are the product of their own acts?
The traditional mother-father role is portrayed as sacrificial, tolerant and monetary. Education prices in developed countries have skyrocketed and most countries prevent young children from engaging in official labour. Contrast this to less developed countries, where children are useful labour assets–more children means more workers on a farm. Granted, an overgeneralisation, but the child fills different roles in different social contexts. Likewise, the mother-father role plays significantly different roles in different social contexts.
I feel that the traditional role of caregiving that mothers and fathers are is largely overstated. Earning enough money to pay for a babysitter does not make one an effective parent. Naturally, a babysitter may be better suited to the task than the mother and father of their first child, but at the same time, this speaks poorly of the same mother-father unit. This extends itself to the whole nurturing process.
For example, is a mother-father unit who actively interacts with their child better than a unit who pays for babysitters and daycare? The latter is working hard to give their child a bright future, no different than the former, but yet it is disconcerting to contemplate if we can even call the latter mother-father unit as true parents for not taking an active role in nurturing their children.
But is the former unit any better? Once again, not all mother-father units are well equipped to tackle child-nurturing (how else would parenting books sell if there is social uncertainty in how to raise a child?) and what works for one child may not work for another.
However, I think the mother-father unit is positioned in an interesting situation that makes it unique. Society expects mothers and fathers to be parents, irrespective of whether they can be parents. Subsequently, the obligations of mothers and fathers to be parents become a lot higher than perhaps other “parents”–teachers, family members, grandparents. Mothers and fathers are not only expected to take care of their child adequately, but also to pay for their child’s expenses, teach their children manners and do everything else we tend to associate with growing up.
It is then fairly painful to consider that such obligations are largely social expectations, but also unduly restrictive. I agree that mothers and fathers should be parents to their children, but I do not agree that mothers and fathers are the sole parenting unit or should they be obligated to take care of their children as parents. However, my caveat is that once mothers and fathers take up the role of the parent, they are obligated to preform it.
If you have a child out of wedlock and leave it for adoption, are you truly a bad person? Perhaps you are, but not having taken the position of a parent, it becomes ridiculous to force the identity of a “parent” onto a person who had never chosen to be one. Likewise for issues like abortion: If you never identified yourself as a “parent”, can you even be called a parent, even if you are the mother (or father).
I say mothers and fathers are not obligated to their children at all, but once they position themselves as “parents”, they adopt all that is expected of a parent, which entails “active, personal and vested interested in a child’s growth and well-being”. As such, mothers and fathers as parents are hence obligated to do what parents are expected to do. We cannot expect the mother of a child left for adoption to care for her son or daughter, but we should expect the mother-parent of a child to do all we socially expect of a parent, including monetary, social and emotional support.
Mothers and fathers have no obligations to their children, but mothers and fathers as parents are obligated to their children.
Parenting is a horribly controversial subject, and not just from the parents’ point of view. Take the position as the child, or the teenager, and all of a sudden things do not seem as clear cut as they seem to be. Or, perhaps, the common “teen angst” and “rebellious” phases of adolescence truly a product of teenage disobedience to authority, or is there something else underlying it? As teenagers, going through the years of adolescence is fraught with frustration as biological and social changes take place, but even more is the struggle between familial issues. There is an almost inevitable divide between the young and the old.
But firstly, what are parents and what do we expect of them? Sure, they feed us and clothe us and take care of us when we can’t ourselves, but the advent of kindergarten, daycare and other child-care services (baby-sitting’s a really popular one!), are the roles of parents that clearly marked anymore? Or how about the 9 to 5, dual breadwinner family? Sure, they are earning their wages and paying for whoever takes care of their children, but are they really parents in all that entails with the word? Or, perhaps, is the act of parentage merely raising a child? But then what counts as “raising” a child?
Parenting is a central issue with parents, and the media is loaded with stories of academic preschools, lavish spendings and the like. And yet anyone who is of my age or younger will often gripe about their parents (I’m not an exception at all!) and issues like “freedom”, “respect” and so on get thrown into the mix. After all, parents want their children to succeed and go to great lengths to see that happen, but even this is fraught with so many concerns.
Let me tackle one. What counts as “raising” a child? I would define “parenting” as an active, personal attempt to interact with a growing child and taking an active role in the child’s growth. One does not have to be a mother or father to be a “parent”, and that definition could easily extend to other family members. But so too could it extend to babysitters, caregivers and teachers.
And that, I suppose, is an important point to remember. A child’s education and childhood is not solely dependent on his or her parents. As much as different societies place different emphasis on the value and role of parents, the same societies often misconstrue the effects of parents. A child who spends 6 hours at school, 3 hours at home under the care of a caregiver and 8 hours of sleep leaves 7 hours of interaction with his mother or father. But even this rudimentary math is misleading: how much of those 7 hours are legitimate interaction? A lot of us spend a lot of time in front of the television (not really active interaction) or moving on with our daily lives irrespective of our parents or guardians anyway.
I believe it is all too easy to see mothers and fathers as the proverbial sacred sanctity of parenting children. That is just not the case. We scorn fathers who abuse their children, but society hides its own fathers who, in many ways, are only better due to the lack of corporal punishment.
So where does this leave us? I might say that the concept of “parents” as mothers and fathers a strong struggle between traditional parenting roles (which were probably not as well defined as we may believe them to be) and modern issues of parenting. There is an interesting (and concerning) trend that sees many mothers and fathers concentrating on earning their pay for their children rather than spending their effort in interacting with their kids. Or, perhaps a strong trend in externalising child care. Sometimes we hear stories of single mothers raising children who accomplish amazing things, and that too is not representative of traditional mother-father roles.
And with this definition of a parent as “a person with vested, active and personal interest in a child’s growth and well-being”, we may explore some more issues in future posts.