I’ve so much work at the moment, together with some performance issues with my laptop(s), that the blog has had to take a back seat again for a few days. But while I’ve been allowing thoughts to bubble away in the back of my mind I’ve been struck by a curious thought: how similar my performance as a father has been to the behavioural patterns of UKIP supporters.
The basic emotion is the same: fear. And it invokes a similar response in me emotionally as it seems to with large sections of the UK population (or at least England and Wales, eh?). The response is to try and control these ‘unruly’ elements – with naughty steps, with social security sanctions, with restrictive language policies, with threats to reduce access to CBeebies.
The key word is tolerance, but not in a good way. This is always a concept that I’ve found tricky when matters of population movements are discussed: the idea that Western cultures should ‘tolerate’ other, different sensibilities, that being ‘tolerant’ is the mark of a civilised nation. But, as a rule, we don’t tolerate the good stuff, do we? We tolerate pain, noise, bad smells, irritating stuff and immigrants – and in my case my own son. There’s not a great deal for which to congratulate ourselves apart from a high annoyance threshold. Surely the point should be that other human beings, and arguably our offspring in particular, are no less a good thing than we are. A bit of all-out misanthropy is perfectly understandable, but it doesn’t make much sense to be quite so selective.
It’s only very recently I’ve come to realise just how authoritarian an individual I am. In previous management roles I’ve thought of myself as a fair-but-not-even-harsh type, trying to get things moving by consensus, explaining everything that needs to be done to anyone that might listen: a nice guy boss. You know, like most administrators in Nazi Germany probably thought they were.
But now I realise how much sighing and storming about and passive aggressive management there was going on: how much I felt I was tolerating my co-workers until I couldn’t stomach it any more. You know, that middle-England bleat about ‘Keeping quiet until now’, the silent majority of twitchy Peter Finches wincing at fellow travellers speaking Mandarin on the bus. This is not to deny that I had some lovely colleagues in my jobs, I did – absolute belters: this is more about my personality, my own martyr complex. And that is a dangerous idea to carry into parenthood.
I think almost everyone would agree that parenting full-time is challenging, even if there isn’t much heavy lifting. But it’s made a lot more difficult if there’s a bit of friction already under the surface, an itch under the skin. There isn’t a lot of room to carry any excess emotional baggage comfortably when your day is full of two-year-old and their grubby demands. I worry at times (let’s face it, I worry all the time, eh?) that I don’t enjoy J-Dawg enough, that my focus is all on problems. If I play a negative game, I can only lose and my nerves jangle, my fuses shorten as a result. If I’m only looking to see what behaviour needs improving, then I’m missing out on huge chunks of beautiful human development. In fact, forget development; I’m missing out on actual human experience, on the stuff that keeps synapses firing and blood corpuscles pumping. It’s literally a game for losers, for people who focus only on what they’re losing: sleep, afternoons in the pub, clean furniture, empires on which the sun never sets, unfettered privilege. Humans will often focus on loss, danger, threats – perhaps looking out for those primordial beasts that were hard-wired into the imaginations of our distant ancestors. ‘Swarms’ of these beasts, perhaps, that can still be summoned to darken our minds in times of ‘national emergency’. But wriggling our way joyfully out of that trap can bring a lot more sunshine into our lives and ultimately make things a lot easier.
I know when I’m trying to steer (or physically remove) J-Bone from potentially harmful behaviour and when I’m just trying to control him to make my life easier, to make myself feel more comfortable about myself. I feel as though I can see the same distinction in governmental policies: it’s not really that subtle a difference, is it? So, I need to ‘control’ my inner Farage the same way I should ‘control’ my outer two-year-old: by accepting those harmless things that I don’t like and changing the toxic habits where I can.
Dr L and I joke that our attempts to raise a kid with a questioning perspective on gender, sexuality, race, beliefs, etc. will backfire spectacularly and he’ll be a UKIP MEP by 2040 – knighthood, fishy City drinking buddies, phlegm-speckled views on folk less pink than himself. My part in the attempt not to nudge this nightmare into reality is to show him the sunshine and help him find it in everyone else. Should be pretty straightforward.
Wish me luck.