I have a nightmare in which a little girl runs towards me with arms outstretched crying “Daddy! Daddy!”
“I’m sorry, sweet child. Should I know you from somewhere?”
Where’s a lawyer when you need one? There should be an app for that.
As ‘Father’s Day’ recedes into a past littered with ‘Card Days’ I find myself looking over a difficult fence – you know, the one with ‘Beware, Live Children’ written on it – and wondering at the whole business that has become ‘Parenting’.
You see, when I grew up we didn’t have ‘Parenting’. The average family in the average street had a mother, a father and a couple of kids, and they all rubbed together in their different ways and an instinctive, unwritten thing called social structure held it in shape.
If the husband at number forty-two had an uncertain temper it was accepted, or if the mother at number twelve had a ‘drink problem’ it was tolerated. Both were known, both were ‘talked about’ and if anything went seriously wrong the street was first to know and first to act. Acceptance and ostracism were controls. If Mum was too drunk to let you in when you came back from school there was always ‘Auntie’ Beth next door to go to while Mum sobered up. Only rarely did a major issue require intervention of the law, usually a fatherly visit from the local constable, who was a figure of fear and awe, at least where I was concerned. Family counseling, parenting classes, child psychology, all these peripherals were just that, where they existed at all. Peripheral. Where you didn’t know how, or you didn’t do as you should, the street taught you with a subtlety only social structure can apply.
I paint a rosy picture, don’t I? And yes, I admit it had its failings sometimes, but before you level the accusation of rose-tinted nostalgia, look around at what you have now. Is it so much better? Is it in any way better?
Where school authority once stopped at the school gate it now hangs over every parent’s life, from the vital choice of the ‘right’ school to the constant demands for extra participation. Where ‘Social Services’ was once a rather dubious little lady who prowled about for six weeks after your child was born it now marches in armed battalions down the street. The street where no-one talks, where there are no kangaroo courts at the corner co-op anymore, and the child of the drunk lady at number twelve has no idea who lives at number thirteen. And the police won’t visit until that child is sixteen and getting into fights, unless Mum is also going strong on the cannabis, in which case they will come at six a.m. with guns to batter down the door.
Patch upon patch. The industry of ‘care’ feeds upon itself, and can write out a new job description to rob us of a little more self-determination every day if it is permitted. Our leaks are constantly being plugged by another patch, until it is becoming difficult to find any virgin skin to stick one onto. Producing these patches has become a flourishing business with its own ethics, edicts and examples to draw from. The media is its engine, and isolation provides the fuel.
Producing a ‘finished child’ is a fairly thankless business – there are so many social ills and diseases to fall foul of. We can teach them right from wrong, but the world about them has become such an insistent role model it is hard for them to do other than conform. When I see my sons now, I see how the noble qualities I hoped for have become subsumed by wants and needs that are baseless, and how little part the future plays in their thoughts. In fact, I wonder if they consider the future at all – how can you set store upon a world everyone tells them is plunging towards its doom?
But I have no right to hope. They are people too. In the end, they will be what they will be. I can’t tell them now – I can’t say it loudly enough to be heard. Only people can heal people. Society’s troubles came from within, and no amount of patching will ever make it whole again.