Monday, December 24, 2007

Jesus' dad.

This being the festive season, it occurred to me the other day that Joseph gets pretty short shrift out of the bible, all things considered.

Here's a fellow who has the decency to take in and care for his betrothed when she turns up pregnant, whereas the standard response would have been to have her stoned in the local square. Then he gets to escort said knocked-up virgin to Bethlehem as required by the bureaucrats who even back then didn't have anything better to do than mess with people's lives.

While in Bethlehem, of course, Mary pops the holy sprog, all glory and hosannah in the highest and all that, and Joseph stands in the back of the stall while all manner of scruffy field workers and "wise" men wander through. (I imagine he found the gold useful, gift horses being what they are.)

When they remove the holy foreskin, Joseph does get to name Jesus, albeit under the explicit direction of an angel. Well, actually, strictly speaking then, I guess he doesn't even get to name him, since he's just following orders he received in a dream. (Pretty much everything he did seems to have been the result of instructions received in dreams.)

At the temple in Jerusalem, he gets preached at by Simeon and Anna. After a couple of years, he does the protective thing in the face of Herod's paranoia and takes Mary & Jesus to Egypt and then later to Nazareth. The last we hear of Joseph in the bible is his presence at a Passover visit to the temple when Jesus was around 12 years old.

That's it.

Not much for Our Lord's dad, eh?

The tradition is to assume that he taught Jesus his trade as a carpenter and there is some argument about whether he and Mary had other kids. This latter seems much like pointless navel gazing to me. More interesting, but equally pointless, would be a discussion as to whether he was Jesus' father or his stepfather. Still more interesting, in a theological sense, and still more pointless, might be an argument as to whether he, er, begat Jesus or not. Some claim that he received grace at the moment of death although how they'd know escapes me.

Whatever. We're lucky if we get any more discussion than that of the most important father who ever lived. Well, to the Christians, anyway.

So much for the 5th commandment, eh, "Honor your Father and Mother"? Mary gets plenty of honor, pretty near enough to qualify for looks askance under that pesky "no idols" thing in some denominations. But Joseph? Well, he does get a sainthood of various things, not least us fathers, we should be grateful for that much (curiously, Mary is not the patron saint of mothers, it is left as an exercise for the reader to find out who is). But amongst the others, he's patron saint of fighters against communism. 'Bit of a fob off, if you ask me.

But then, these days, and apparently for the past two millennia, we should be used to being fobbed off, us dads.

On the other hand, given certain men's rights activists' assertion that feminism is an offshoot of communism, then perhaps Joseph would make a good MRA patron saint. Well, I don't know about that, but certainly I'd put him forward as a candidate for patron saint of Father's rights activism.

Alright, Saint Joe, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our humiliation in family court...

To close, I note that the bible does not record so much as one word of anything Joseph said. Not even "Bugger me, Mary, I've had another one of them blasted dreams! Pack yer bags, 'im upstairs says we gotta do a runner. How do you fancy Egypt at this time of year?" Like all good fathers, he just shuts up and gets on with it, neither expecting any thanks nor getting any.

Happy Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2007

On Victimhood

I used to read PostSecret almost religiously until I just grew tired of seeing how passive aggressive, victimhood-obsessed and downright unpleasant the masses are when they can get away with it. It started to look like just one long internet whine. (For a while, I flirted with the idea of attempting a gender analysis of the secrets. Have a look, see if you spot a bias.)

Fortunately, this happened before I sent my own card. Had it been published, I'd probably have felt perversely pleased with myself for a while, but eventually I'm sure I would have grown ashamed.

(Of course this same argument applies to anonymous blogs, just like this one. I try to fight that, my last post notwithstanding, for reasons we'll explore below.)

Victimhood is seductive. If life is unpleasant, if someone manages to climb up your back and tread you down, there's something in human nature which is more inclined to whine, lick its wounds and hide behind others than to fight back. Sure, there are people out there who are true victims and who need the support of the strong because they cannot fight for themselves. If that support were readily available, then there would be fewer victims around, to be a victim would make you genuinely strong. But that logic is easily hijacked. All you have to do is look like a victim.

Why do we try to protect victims anyway? The herd, attacked by a predator, doesn't try to protect the weak, the injured, the infirm, it just tries to get away. The victim is by definition compromised. The weakness in one is a weakness in the whole herd. Hence natural selection.

Could protecting the weak be a vehicle towards enhancing your own desirability? If you're seen to be heroic, risk your life even, are you showing the rest how virile and strong you are? Is the risk of weakening yourself so much that you become a victim yourself, worth the payoff that you get if you're successful? If so, then perhaps everyone wins. The weak are protected and the heroes are, well, heroes and all that goes with it. Bingo! Survival trait.

Any means to power will be abused.

The not-so-heroic will look askance and wonder if the hero can be exploited. Get him to stick his neck out, so I don't have to, eh? All to the better if the victim has something to offer, like, oh, I don't know, reproductive capability? 'Just have to look like a victim.

The best lie is one that is believed by the liar. Thus faux victims must convince themselves that they are true victims. While keeping their strength even from themselves, they must appear weak at the right time and in the right place. But don't be too blatant. Being a true victim implies true weakness and a true drain on the hero's resources. Better for the hero if you didn't weigh him down while he's actually being heroic. Once he's hooked, pick yourself up, but make it look like he's doing it, believe yourself that he is doing it. Even if he gets an inkling, if he knows what's good for him and you're good enough in your role, he'll play along.

It's sort of an unpleasant thought, really, the evil hero and his evil victim, conning you into believing the scam, cheering them on. Those words don't belong together: evil, victim, evil, hero. We feel a revulsion at the idea. Play acting for the crowd. Wolves in sheep's clothing. We're vigilant against them, which means they have to be all the more convincing, and you the more predisposed to believe them. The real victim, however, has to cope with being a genuine burden to a would be true hero, has to compete with the not-really-victims for his attention, and yours.

How would you identify a genuine victim? What are the characteristics? Besides the obvious. The faux won't be obvious. They don't want you to figure it out too easily, that gives them nowhere to hide.

True victims would be hard to spot too. If they were easy, they're also easy meat for the predator. Real victims wouldn't want to look like victims, they'd fight the label, wouldn't they?

(Perhaps all this falls down. I once got up close to a herd of wild horses. They were gathered around one of their elders, exhausted, lying on the ground. If he hadn't been prostrate, I'm sure I wouldn't have got so close. They used their safety in numbers to protect one of their own, even though it made them weaker than if they'd run off. Horses are smart.)

So, you can compete to be a hero, and go to war. And you can compete to be a victim, well back from the line.

But if you're a real victim, competition might be beyond your energies, so you'll use all your strength to blend in with the crowd. Especially if you were not the right kind, not politically correct.

Hence the secrets?

One of the PostSecrets read "I was molested when I was a child, but I didn't tell anyone. When I grew up, I found him and killed him, but I didn't tell anyone." This over a postcard of a particularly vulnerable looking child. Is this person a victim? The child was. But is a murderer (assuming it's true) a victim? Is he or she a hero?

I don't want to be a victim, I just want my son back. I'd like to be his hero.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


He's not there, all of the time.

I'm afraid I don't know what he looks like any more. (The pictures are all two years old now. And he was changing so fast.)

Doctors talk about deferred pain, where pain does not manifest itself precisely at the site of the injury, but at some other place nearby. The pain that I feel from his absence is all deferred. It is everywhere because there is no one place where it can be.

A constant nameless ache. 'Can't get comfortable. No matter what I do.

Constant anxiety that there is something I have not done, that I could do, to make this pain go away and replace it with the presence of my son. Constant anger at the people who have allowed this to happen, who have encouraged it, or just apathetically turned away.

Then I worry that people will think I am an angry person, because that is used against me. (It's what she said, I can't control my anger, while she does things that only merit anger.)

I'm exhausted all of the time, even at 3am when I can't sleep, even after sleeping 10 hours to compensate for a week's short nights. Exhausted by dreams I can't remember. I am exhausted by the energy it takes to sleep, to wait, to be patient, to hope, to survive. I am exhausted with the effort of trying to appear normal.

Turn the music up, so it gets a little quieter.

Some of these posts worry me. I don't want to come across as whiny. I don't want to look pathetic, reactionary, difficult, dangerous, weird. I want to look normal (whatever that is, even if I'm not). I want to look strong. I want to look like it's all under control, that I've got it together dude, and everything will be alright, one day, soon, please. Please.


But I am so tired. I want you to read this stuff and feel helpless anger too, to know that I am right to be angry, you would be too. Rage is the only appropriate response, there couldn't be any other, but it is also the most disallowed. What does this do to me? I'm not like this all the time. Really, I'm not. (Yes, I am.)

They say that anger turned inward becomes depression. Oh yes, it does, it really does. My hands shake a little, I can't seem to get a good breath.

I am worried for him. I want to know how he is. Really, how he is. To know. Not to be told by someone else, not fobbed off with a two month old school report. I want to sit with him. I want to look at him, read his eyes, his face, as he tells me how it all is. I just want to be in the same room as him, to breathe some of the same air, then I could catch my breath, my hands would still shake some, but I'd not care. If I could only watch him play, oh God, if I could laugh with him.

If you could hear inside my head you'd clap your hands over your ears to protect them. Or scream with me.

But I'm getting on with life, really I am, serenely accepting the things I can't change, courageously changing what I can, wisely knowing the difference. Really, that's me. Fully in control, biding my time, mostly, although perhaps a little tense today. That's what I look like, I think. Every day. Don't I?

Here, come in a little closer, there's something I want to tell you.....


How in God's name would you feel?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Blood Diamond

I watched Blood Diamond last night and, in amongst the rather distracting story about conflict diamonds, western avarice and duplicity, and Leonardo DiCaprio finally succeeding in playing a halfway convincing adult (albeit a young one), I was pleased to find a really quite father-positive story.

Solomon is the man who finds the eponymous diamond, but he is also a husband and father trying to do his best for his family in a malignant world. While the audience is primarily entertained by the hunt for said diamond, Solomon is also looking for his family who've been nabbed by the bad guys, well one set of them anyway. Wife and daughter turn out to be OK, pretty much, but son is taken and trained as a child soldier. The relationship between Solomon and his son turns out to be crucial, exactly as it should be.

The more I think about it, the more I'm inclined to see Solomon and son's story as an allegory for a father fighting for access to his son against malicious forces who are determined to keep them apart and to use the son as it suits them. I'll let you figure out who I think all the various bad guys might be. Melodramatic, perhaps, but I think the connection is there - in Solomon's anguish, determination and fear and in his son's trauma for being made to endure experiences to which no-one should be subject.