If you hear something late at night,
some kind of trouble,
some kind of fight,
just don’t ask me what it was.
What I want to know is
Are you kind?
Im’a get medieval on your ass.
Especially those of you who know that I’m a Twit know that Mama and I were planning a trip to Uganda. While we were there, 3B’s Grammy was going to come here and take care of him, but Grammy now has to look after her own mother, so she’s unable to babysit 3B. Mama will still go to Uganda on Sunday–she’s running a meeting there; I was just tagging along–and I’ll be solo daddying it here for a week or so.
It was difficult letting go of the expectations we had built up, but it’s the only choice, because this is the deal: we look after our children and we look after our parents.
I’ve been thinking about this deal and the other deals we make with each other quite a bit since reading MetroDad’s thoughtful rant about people who don’t abide by the deal. For many reasons, I agree wholeheartedly with his verdict for those who can’t, or won’t, keep up their end of the deal, but at the same time, I can’t endorse it either.
I agree with him because ever since 3B was born, my view of humanity has changed. I used to define people by their characteristics, perhaps by the associations they made, and by the actions that they took. Since having 3B, however, I can’t help but view everyone as someone’s child–born with unlimited potential, deserving of every opportunity, always imperfect in this moment and striving to be better in the next.
As I interact with them, I can’t help but ask myself, “How will they report me to their parents? What would I say if 3B told me someone treated him the way that I’m treating this person?”
And so, given the beauty that 3B was born with, if he ever told me that someone had abused him in any way, my first reaction would be anger, and I’d want to unleash my anger without restraint on whoever had hurt 3B. And I don’t think my instinct would be to give them the luxury of taking one for the team themselves. My instinct would be to get medieval on their asses, and never let up.
I can’t even read those stories about people who lock kids away, beat them, starve them to death, and so on, because I get an image of someone doing those things to 3B stuck in my mind, and it makes me clench my fists, grind my teeth, and imagine how I’d avenge the hurt they inflicted.
But, as I play out this scenario in my mind, I stop when I remember that whoever might have hurt 3B would be someone’s child. If I beat up on them, I’d be abusing someone’s child. And, after all, might that not be how we got to this point? Isn’t it the case that violence begets violence, and if it doesn’t stop with me, where will it end? And, if I exacted my vengance from a perpetrator, would I be the person who my mother and father wanted me to be? How would doing that care for the memory and legacy of them that I carry forward?
Just as I can’t read those stories about child abuse, neither can I read stories about the torturing of an adult without thinking of how that man or woman’s parents must feel to hear that the beautiful child they had nurtured to adulthood, protecting them along the way from all manner of perils great and small, had come to be broken and suffer so, especially at the hands of another, with the malice and forethought that entails.
(What we all often forget is the fate of those who perpetrate torture. Those who command them to do it generally have clear consciences and sleep peacefully, dreaming of Hop on Pop, but those who have to lay their hands on another with the purpose of breaking them apart often are mentally and emotionally broken themselves by the work. Mom, Brother #2, and I toured the Gevangepoort at The Hague, where some folks who we share a name with and who we may or may not be related to were tortured and killed. One was broken with hammers on the rack, in an effort to force a confession from him that never came. When his brother arrived to recover him, they assembled mob literally tore them to pieces. It’s said that the process of attempting to force a false confession from a man with a set of hammers ruined the man who committed the brutality. I can’t imagine that our sense of collective humanity has changed so much in the last 400 years that contemporary torturers aren’t affected similarly.)
None of this means that I don’t support taking child abusers out of circulation. That’s also part of the deal: if you can’t, or won’t, look after children and parents, you don’t get to play the game. I understand that it’s possible that some abusers don’t feel they can control their actions for various reasons–they’ve only ever known violence, they have a physical addiction that leaves them out of control of their actions, and so forth.
But I don’t care. You break certain rules, you don’t get to play the game.
OK, but then what? If we’re not lining these people up against a wall with bandannas and cigarettes, what are we doing with them? If it’s true that it takes a village to raise a child, what do we do for these children, who have grown up to prey on their own or others’ children? Or, are some people beyond repair?
(And what do we do for those who we commanded to defile others? Who we taught to prey on their fellow humans, to tear them apart by their weakest parts? Are they beyond repair?)
Those questions all assume a negative. A more positive way to answer the same questions is to determine what we can do to love and shelter our children and parents. In our specific case, relating to Mama’s trip to Uganda, that translates into allowing 3B’s Grammy to look after her mom, who recently had a stroke. This means that I’ll stay home to look after 3B. On the one hand, doing this contradicts some of the feelings that I’ve had since losing my own Mom, which Dave Eggers summed up fairly accurately:
On the one hand you are so completely bewildered that something so surreal and incomprehensible could happen. At the same time, suddenly the limitations or hesitations that you might have imposed on yourself fall away. There’s a weird, optimistic recklessness that could easily be construed as nihilism but is really the opposite. You see that there is a beginning and an end and that you have only a certain amount of time to act. And you want to get started.
On the other hand, those feelings can quickly drift into an egocentric selfishness, and it behooves me to remember that spending a week focusing on 3B as a boy and me as a dad is exactly one of those acts that I want to get started on now that I’m so painfully aware again that there is only a certain amount of time to act.
Besides, this is deal. And it’s a deal that I love more than I could have imagined possible.
Of course, Mom, who not only had eyes in the back of her head, but who could also see into the future, knew this. Years ago she told me, “I always thought that you’d make a great house husband.” And perhaps to remind me of this, she came to me in a dream the night we decided that I wouldn’t go to Uganda. Or perhaps she came to comfort me as I realized that I’d be thousands of miles from Mama for over a week, because sometimes even big boys want to hear their Moms tell them it’s going to be OK, it’s all right, just go to sleep now.
Or maybe she was telling me that I really shouldn’t have left those dishes in the sink overnight. Didn’t I know that I’d just have to wash them in the morning?
Yeah, that was probably it.
Whatever it was, I’m hoping that Mom finds her way back to me when Mama’s gone, to help me sleep through the night. And here’s hoping that all the hurt, lost, and lonely children around us find someone to kiss them, lay them down, stroke their hair, and watch over them.