Recently, a close friend of mine asked me a question - the type of question that lingers on the mind – the type that disarms, slowly and quietly. It came, as many such questions do, hiding among the reeds of regular conversation. She asked me whether I worried for my son’s future. I remember shuffling in my seat, pondering it as one does a menu in an unfamiliar restaurant. I had never given it much thought. As evidenced by my infrequent musings on parenthood, I tend to think only of the present, incapable of forethought. Did I worry about him? And if so, in what way?
I sat in the chair, twirling the empty coffee cup in my hands, peering into the space beyond space, where our minds search frantically for answers. I wandered through the emptiness for what felt like an age but was merely a moment, until, vision restored, I answered.
‘No, I didn’t,’ I said. And at the time my answer was accurate. I wasn’t worried. Not really.
You see, we had been discussing the economy and impact it has on us as individuals. We talked of the past and how our parents struggled with record interest rates. We then moved onto the present, debating who struggled more, the mortgagee – battling myriad bloated mortgages or the hordes of people scrimping and saving to be just like one of those fortunate few. In this sense, I wasn’t worried. We had made plans, had managed to somehow, despite our damnedest efforts, secured a form of financial security for our child. I remarked that even without this fall-back, I was confident he would find his way in the world, financially at least. We always do, do we not?
Generation after generation, irrespective of the times, adapts and finds a way to succeed. I wasn’t worried about him at all – this seven-year-old I love so inconceivably. I know we have done all we can to help him on his way. We have sacrificed so much for him. Have built our empire of sorts for him. Done our best to ensure he needn’t struggle like we do. But life isn’t just about money is it. Failure isn’t always measured by dollars and cents or lack thereof.
This evening, as I pushed home through the driving rain, this question of hers burrowed deeper into my mind, secreting doubts, feeding off my neurosis like a parasite. What if I was worried about him? But in a different way. An unoccupied mind is a terrible thing. It turns in on itself, gorging on our fears and belching the remains. It leaves us vulnerable to all manner of dangers, all manner of truths we’ve worked so hard to obscure. Truths we daren’t speak aloud
This is one such truth. I am worried about him. A great deal in fact. I see him growing so rapidly before me, his mind sharpening with each day, his concerns – once flights of fancy – are now mired ever deeper in the realities of life. What if this wonderful boy I’ve tried so hard to shelter from the barbs of life is a failure? Not in a traditional sense, but a failure in his own mind. What if he cannot lead a fulfilling life? What if he is like me?
I am not the best father in the world. I make mistakes – a lot of them. I lose my temper, I can be inattentive, I am careless at times, but I try. I try hard, maybe too hard, to be better at it. I used to try to be better at many things. I used to try many things. There was a time, I suppose, when this mattered to me; when I had motivation enough to work at improving myself, when foolish pride was my driving force. Those days are gone.
It is a difficult thing watching your will to succeed ebb away. What were once dreams are now folly, or worse still, a hindrance. It is a difficult thing, knowing you will never be the person you hoped you would be. It is more difficult still, seeing this same affliction manifest itself in your progeny. He is seven, he shouldn’t be bothered by failure. He should be dreaming, should be wishing and hoping and wondering about endless possibility. But I fear for him. I really do. I do not want him to be like me. I do not want him to lose sight of who he could be. Who he should be.
It makes me wonder, did my father have these same worries? Did he, as a younger man, concern himself with the flaws he had passed down to me? Does he worry still? Or does he live in blissful ignorance of the calamity that dwells within his son – that is his son? If he knew, would he care? I guess the real question is, what could he do about it? This is why I worry. Understanding the depths to which we can fall, how can I help him – this innocent boy of mine – stay clear of that same pit? How can I stop him from being like me? Is it even possible?
This question, this awakened beast, has ravaged me and no matter how I twist my tired thoughts, I find no respite. This question, that I once thought a trifle, has incapacitated me, has left me at a loss. This question, that seeks so much from me, is one I wish had never been asked yet need to answer.
Do I worry about my son’s future? Yes, yes I do – I also worry there is little I can do to help.