This is part of a series of blog posts under the title Fatherhood Diaries.
Johnny turned two today. We are all growing up, him becoming a cheerful boy and us approaching our mid-thirties. I am a different man than two years ago. Not necessarily a better man. I experienced heights of love I never thought were possible but I also developed fears for what I may be becoming — and what role model I will be for Johnny. I fear that I will become comfortable in the complacency of middle class, resolved that nothing will change, and thus not willing to fight for anything worth changing. Someone who will passively accept the status quo and who will use narrow self-interest as the only motivation for action.
These considerations were prompted by the death of a Greek singer who sang a song whose opening lyrics go something like this: “in your thirties nothing could hold you back, you were considered cool but now at forty five you act like a patriarch. You are neither honest nor a humanitarian, you are rather a washed-out fighter who is afraid of the game and acts like a judge”. Somehow these lyrics resonated with me.
Fears tend to resemble the truth, if sometimes faintly. I observed myself exhibiting behaviours or thoughts that I associate with this complacency. For instance, I no longer write extensively about politics or consume much political content. Though more informed than the average person who is not (was?) a political junkie like me, I now limit myself to reading the daily headlines and the weekend edition of the FT. My leisure reading during the week is mostly dedicated to novels and tech news. I simply do not have the stamina to follow politics as closely as before. Which brings me to the next trait I exhibit, one that I really despise; my limited time, coupled with my crisis of faith on the propensity of this society for positive change, makes me reluctant to embark in political activism. Indicatively, a few weeks back, there was a gathering in support of the resumption of the negotiations for the resolution of the Cyprus problem. Normally, I wouldn’t think twice before attending. Alas, my pessimism got the better of me and I stayed home.
I fear that I will reach a point where I will no longer bother. In thinking about it, I realize the role reversal that took place; I am no longer just someone’s son, I’m also someone’s father. My role now is not dissimilar to that of my parents, which makes me consider how unfair I was to them growing up. I thought of them as part of an unattractive status quo, whereas in reality they were — and admirably still are — quite politically and socially active. I am not that concerned that Johnny will think the same about me — this is the natural evolution of parent-child relationships; what I worry about is that he might be right.
I am politically lonely since my early twenties when I stopped being an active party member. Ever since, I haven’t been a part of a collective outside of a few single-issue campaigns mostly related to the Cyprus problem. I am not comfortable in this political isolation as I do not believe that meaningful political change is attainable by an isolated individual. It is not enough for Socrates to refuse to escape prison in order to avoid harming the city “for his part”. In order for this behaviour, any behaviour, to have meaning and social impact, it needs to inform, be emulated, replicated and be adopted by a collective. On this account, being outside a political collective makes one akin to Pontius Pilate washing his hands, feeling good with himself but allowing history to take its course without doing anything to change it.
Alas, here I am. I have views about politics, which I express around mostly similarly minded friends, in their majority privately educated, typically over wine. And I spend most of my ever limited hours doing one of the following activities: if it’s dawn, I go for a run or a ride; during the day I am at work; I go home in the afternoon/evening to play with the baby until it’s time to get him to bed; and then I either read or watch something with Sunshine trying to stay awake past 9:30pm. This routine has been established as a means of survival. I work because I like it and also because I must (the former admittedly a massive privilege), the baby has physical and emotional needs that must be met, and I train as a means of meditation to try and maintain some sort of psychological balance.
But I need to disrupt this routine of survival. Clearly, what I fear for the future may already be happening and I need to do something about it. Johnny is now growing up and he is starting to form proper sentences. He remains impressed by his parents, we are his reference, which is both rewarding but also terrifying as it leaves quite a lot of room for error. He is already repeating a swear world that I inadvertently used in front of him a couple of times (nothing terrible, the “F” word) and I wonder which others of my bad habits he might pick up. This complacency needs to be disrupted, if only for him.
I recall how my parents dexterously led by example. We spent many hours in book shops browsing through the shelves for the next purchase. I was accompanying my father in political meetings and rallies from very early on. We frequently visited music stores to buy records and spent hours upon hours listening to music, visiting theaters and attending concerts. Looking back, I realise that these cultural stimuli were very specific to a left wing family in the late 80s and 90s with socially educated parents who held decent jobs. Comparing childhood experiences with other people of my age, particularly coming from more conservative environments, I realise how valuable these influences have been, which makes me ever more grateful towards my parents.
Seeing Johnny growing up is exciting. He is sometimes acting kindly, sometimes aggressively, he is very opinionated and not willing to cave in. I see in him Sunshine’s stubbornness and brilliance — I rejoice for the latter. That said, I often wonder whether all parents think that their children are brilliant. Probably they do. I look forward to the future, which will be a constant attempt to support and guide him towards becoming a good person despite living in a religiously-driven society that promotes hatred and bigotry. The more Johnny grows and the more mobile and cognitively developed he becomes, the more able we will be to disrupt our routine. In order to give him the influences that he deserves we also need to get out of our comfort zone, not least because the Cypriot middle-class dream is so grey and dull. This largely self-imposed isolation must be broken.