reflecting on the politics of parenthood

February 15, 2011

One of my favourite scenes from Fiddler on the Roof is when Perchik askes Hodel to marry him. The stumbling and discomfort of talking about the relationship, the way in which he bring his whole belief system into the conversation, and she reminds him that this relationship is about even more than the big socio-political questions of the day, and as can be expected, I have liking in Perchik as character, the revolutionary, believing that a new world is possible.

It’s been just over two weeks since we heard that Maryke is pregnant. We are suddenly thrown into the wonderful world of becoming parents. One of my friends said that he can’t wait for the contemplations on parenting, and I can’t wait to write them, and can’t wait to reflect on this important aspect of life together with all those who have been forming my thoughts over the past years.

I have to start by thinking of parenting as one way of addressing the political questions of the day. As Hodel does, you, and my wife might support you in this, should remind me that it’s also about affection. And I’d say, yes of course, and continue to unpack this as a deeply political task. You might be somewhat uncomfortable with this, and so am I. Still, let me put my thoughts on the table.

Being really excited about the coming of this small miracle (the fact that I’m using this word already reflects the excitement, since I’ll never use the word miracle for anything) into our lived, we share the instinct, I hope with most parents, that we want to do anything possible to protect this kid. We are still to meet her/him, and already we are making choices which have more dramatic implications for our lives equal to the choice to get married! I guess we live with the instinct to take this child to a place where we believe to be a good place.

But simultaneously we carry into this new relationships all the socio-political convictions we have, and affection. We don’t want to take this child into any ghetto. We want to take this child to the marketplace, to the places where average South Africans live. To the inner-cities and townships, and dare I say sometimes also to the suburbs. We want this child to be part of a world less “raced” and “classed” into various ghettos. And we know it’s not possible.

So I guess part of what affection does is to provide and even deeper political commitment, and faith conviction. Convinced that the world we dream of, the impossible world, can not wait another generation, because there is this child which we will do anything so that she/he might grow up in a world less violent (in all the complex ways in which violence manifests), more equal (in all the various ways where equality comes into play), and more open to become fully human.

I guess the deep commitment we have towards our children bring out the what we are truly committed towards. And this relationship will most probably bring out the many places where words were easy, but action not so easy. Maybe nothing reflects out deepest convictions better than the choices we make for our children.

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