Thursday, June 11, 2009

Losing it in the family

(adds some edits)

Love Nina’s posting of various unequivocal positions on patriarchcal naming practices even by the so-called leftwing – husband insisting on wife losing her ‘maiden’ name, sons often being given the name of the father, vanity and pride and a cloying cosseting taking over. Let me mention my pet hate on naming for the next generation - the lurch to Victoriana. All these emilys, georges, oscars, joshuas and the like functioning, presumably, as a kind of rootsy, redbrick permanence against the transient flows of globalised modernity, an obvious mark of difference from the soppy, fly-by-night exotica or ethnica or the chavvy whatever-name-is-popular-on-TV-at-the-time-of-birth. Yet we always wanted some orientalist hint of the kids’ subcontinental 25%, while also sticking my name in as the boy’s second; oh and my wife took my name (but generally doesn’t use it anywhere as far as I can tell - she’s quite proud of her father’s family name). Somewhere, in between then, but basically guilty as hell and as charged bruvs.

Such disclosure naturally leads me to ponder where I am now, as ‘my’ twins approach their third birthday, and where I have come from. Not quite wholly suppressed, but certainly the fire of the angry young man is down to the embers, igniting again only on occasion, more often than not misfiring or lightly charring the wrong targets. Because you know, there ain’t time, as rigorous spells of patronly induction take precedence. You have no more than two and a half hours every night of genuine free time. Eastenders and the latest massive game on Sky Spores, or research on speculative realism? Things fall by the wayside. Beware this analysis will slip between general and personal observations all too easily.

The naming foible is a classic example of the stranglehold of paternalist capitalism, where constant exception can be found to mitigate against even our best intentions and right-on views. It was all so easy before the fall – won’t use that, don’t buy that, fuckoffmortgages – before marriage instilled compromise (inherent in the act of union itself - I never thought I would relent as much again as I did when I agreed to marry in a house of God; my wife actually believes in the big man upstairs) and commitment as musts and kids made, well, giving up, an almost necessary modus operandi. What is the most convenient, nay safest, option?

It certainly doesn’t surprise me people become a little softer yet more proud of themselves and their background when the children arrive (or vain in that horrible ‘hey, look at this emblem of my procreation’ smug way). Add to that the element of protection which this naming practice implies; we had enough problems making any kids at all that when they did arrive of course we wanted as many metaphorical umbilica as we could find. And as I said in the birth post, those early weeks will offer you genuinely transcendental moments which you’d be a fool not to recognise, and quickly assimilate into family mythology. The end result is often a doting and past-it ‘daddy’; you surprise yourself just how much of a ‘parent’ you can be, indeed are. And the phrase ‘could you ever imagine yourself doing ...insert family cliché here... 10 years ago’ is common and irritating one, but entirely true.

But they are just some manifestations of a period of hyperflux, where maddening self-inquiry often around the ‘am I ready for this/do I want it’ themes eats up those free moments. The switch from self-contained independence will suffer as selfish traits are doggedly retained, Add in confusion, encroachment (your parents and in-laws), nightly sleep deprivation and, most sadly, the inescapable endless comparisons with your partner’s new local friends and their offspring, as well as your own pals and their progress with parenting. Then, some days the act of parenting will be so hard for whatever reasons (often chief among them being depression caused by the loss of your ‘spark’) that you will front it a bit when you’re out in public. Sure, me and the kids can get through this. It’s either that or revealing the darkside of moodswings and punitive retribution for bad behaviour, which isn’t going to go down well in a gentrified café in some regenerated bobo district of the capital. It’s amazing the family man keeps any of his prior held principles at all. Just how you fit in beyond your parent persona will be much more of an issue than family names.

Other factors help direct you towards a more staid role. You will be sole breadwinner for at least some of the time. The ability to pay the bills (indeed you learn to love work precisely because it’s not parenting) is a point of extra pride (and an extra pint of Pride every third Thursday with ‘the lads’; gigs, clubs and events of all kinds taking a back-seat), while your very existence is now a moral test and much more so when it was just you and your partner. Everything outside of work + family and those aforementioned occasional treats is ethically out-of-bounds, drugs, extra-marital sex (obviously) and, I guess, extremity of opinion from the consensus.

That’s me now, Daddy Pig out of Peppa Pig, overweight, past-it, still basically a sound guy (you wish!) and crucially always there for the kids, even if it’s just for indulgi-play.

So far, so strait-jacketing. Yet still there is always room for outside interests, for passion, for political belief, for vision, or just part-time transgression. In the first two years I kept on keeping on with McClintock way more than I should have, jeopardising my relationship by turning the mac on at every available opportunity. I hope for further outlets like that. Just don’t expect the leftwing ever to be the main focus any more, or surprised if the will and the wiles are no longer there if the opportunity for action, agitation or activism presents itself. Don’t be surprised if it’s all coulda, shoulda, woulda from here. What was ‘in the pipeline’ at Johnny Junior’s birth will more often than not stay there. We are not very far from the sketch in the Armando Ianucci Show, where all men who have reached 45 go into a home – ‘what they have started now they will never finish. They are spent’.
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