By ANDY CHEN
Fatherhood is bad for my mental health. Already obsessive-compulsive and a bit of a worrywart to begin with, I wonder how I’ve been able to function at all, working at a newspaper and receiving all kinds of news that tell me the numerous ways my two young daughters could suffer or come to harm.
I read about how the world could run out of potable water in the near-to-distant future, and instantly I picture scenarios in which Faith and Sarah suffer from thirst. (I imagine Sarah, the more feisty of the sisters, would fight and forage for water as well as protect Faith. The Hunger Games books have not left my system.)
Another example: When economists predict the next Depression will hit in 2030, I calculate that a couple of long-term savings accounts my wife and I have for the girls will mature just before that, so hopefully their pillows are ready to be stuffed with cash when the banks go bust.
You can, of course, guess – very accurately – how I reacted when news broke recently of potential danger much closer to home: Kidnapping.
Rumours of kidnapping bids surfaced last month. The police have exposed some of these as hoaxes.
After venting “Death to all kidnappers!” on Facebook, I acted quickly. No child leashes for me – they’re of limited use. No GPS trackers – professional kidnappers would know to dispose of these immediately.
Mine was the more insidious method: I repeatedly told Faith, in deathly sinister tones to “trust no one.” Agent Mulder in The X-Files would be proud of me.
(Sarah will receive the same instructions when she is older. In the meantime, I have been extra vigilant, though some would say paranoid.)
Stranger danger warnings were insufficient for me. I painted extreme examples for Faith of how friendly-looking people she might know, such as our kindly neighbours and acquaintances, could turn out to be pure evil. I kept telling her how I would never see her again if she didn’t scream loudly “Kidnap!” and bite whoever tries to take her away, and that I would die if I couldn’t see her again.
Have I gone too far? A mother of three grown children I had lunch with one day says I have.
According to her, what I am doing is teaching Faith to believe the worst of everyone she meets, instead of seeing the potential goodness in them, and that, she emphasises, is a terrible way to live.
In other words, I’m schooling her in the “guilty until proven innocent” legal system beloved of authoritarian regimes across the world.
It’s pessimistic, neurotic and paranoid. It’s also what I’m comfortable with. Better the (lesser) evil I know than the evil that could happen in ways I do not know. Teaching my daughters that the world they will grow up in is all sunshine and roses is good only in theory, like democracy and penile enlargements.
The third route parents could take, besides imparting pessimistic or optimistic worldviews, is to let kids find out everything on their own without adding our value judgments, however inadvertently.
Few parents are able to do this, though a family in Britain has taken this approach to the extreme.
The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported in January that a couple in their 40s decided not to reveal their baby Sasha’s gender to the world “so he would not be influenced by society’s prejudices and preconceptions.”
“They referred to their child as ‘The Infant’ and only allowed him to play with ‘gender-neutral toys’.”
How ... quaint. They might as well throw him to be raised by a pack of wolves so he could choose to be human or beast.
As parents, our chief responsibilities include protecting our children from all harm, such as from wolves and wacky social experiments, as well as guiding and instructing them as best as we know how.
And even when others say we don’t know how best to raise our own kids – I don’t know how to be anything but paranoid and distrustful – that’s just something the little ones will outgrow. Faith and Sarah, like most children, will no doubt learn to have their own minds, most likely and problematically in their teen years.
Meanwhile, I try where I can, where I find it’s harmless, to let them learn things about the world on their own. If they like silly Wiggles music videos now instead of classical music, so be it. I just try to bite my tongue and not tell them that those grown men in the Wiggles videos wearing tight-fitting colourful clothes really look like child molesters. – The Straits Times, Singapore / Asia News Network