My son who is nearly three years old still wakes up multiple times every night. I accepted this as a fact of life. Nothing to do about it beyond continue keeping a fairly strict bedtime routine. When he inevitably wakes up at night, he does one of few things. He either comes to our bed looking for his mum, or he is wandering around in our flat wanting either to play or have some milk to sooth himself. Knowing that his nights are somewhat unpredictable, we make sure to check up on him. Sometimes I just stare at him sleeping peacefully, growing up one breath at a time.
A few evenings ago I woke up around 2am, turned on the corridor’s light, and went into his room to make sure that he was sound asleep. He was resting on his newly laid blue sheets, face down, wearing a red t-shirt and blue shorts. My perfect son was sleeping safely in the same posture and wearing similar clothes to the late Alan Kurdi. This is how the Syrian boy was found on 2 September 2015 lying face down at a beach in the Mediterranean. Dead, on the very shores that claimed the lives and dreams of so many people.
Only my Johnny is alive and well and was breathing rhythmically in peace, possibly dreaming of the fire-engines that fascinate him lately. There is no difference between Alan and my son. Johnny is just lucky enough to have been born a few hundred kilometers away. Otherwise they are the same, as all children fundamentally are. Alan probably also liked to climb on his dad when he saw him resting, and was possibly also giving cheeky kisses to his unsuspecting mum. These most basic of human interactions remain the same despite the adversities. I’m well aware that I’m also very similar to Alan’s dad – I don’t doubt for a minute that, like most dads, he would do anything to save the life of his dear little boy, that he would trade his life and enter into a pact with the devil for his boy to be alive.
What happened to Alan cannot be merely classified as an “unfortunate event”. This tragic death was as predictable as it was preventable. We must prevent further deaths. We must provide safe pathways to persons in need of protection. Too many have died already. It is imperative that more affluent countries, geographically distant from the outskirts of Europe, show the necessary solidarity in support of the countries who receive the majority of refugees. And those on the receiving end should ensure that no person is left at risk of death at sea, that everyone has the chance to articulate their protection concerns.
As I was watching my dear boy sleeping and recuperating from a day of play, sleeping face down in his red t-shirt, I got panicked. Children like him are at risk of drowning, dehydration, exploitation. How can it be? I then went to bed thinking of the instances where families with children boarded dodgy boats and travelled to Europe’s frontline only to be refused disembarkation. How can it be? How can we accept the prospect of frail boats capsizing? Not everyone who comes with a boat is a refugee – desperation and hopelessness wear a lot of cloaks – but everyone’s life should be respected. Each person’s case should be examined individually and if any return is to take place following the refugee status determination process, it should be done in a safe and legal manner.
Johnny is now older and he is asking questions. Simple questions for the moment, but I am well-aware that are about to get tougher. Soon enough, the object of his inquiries will extend beyond the general world. He will soon wonder how did his dad fare in this world, what causes he supported, what actions did he take, when did he remain silent. We shouldn’t remain silent. We should all do our part to ensure that every person is treated with the same level of respect, for there is no life worth more than any other.
This is part of a series of entries titled Fatherhood Diaries where I record thoughts on life as a new dad. Click here for all the Fatherhood Diaries.