Friday, March 20, 2015


There are many ways to measure progress. A lot of people would point to tangible signs of mankind's advances: the internet, travel, post-industrialisation, you name it.

But how have we as little insignificant humans moved on? From the group of hirsute neanderthals huddled around a fire, to the rag-clad plague-infested hominids of the middle ages, to the sharp-suited masters of all we survey of the 21st century. Is that progress too?

I don't buy any of that. That's merely circumstance, and not particularly insightful into the way we live, interact, love, associate and grow.

I like to think that our development as a race and as a society can be measured in the way we nurture our young. How we prepare them, teach them and equip them for their own adulthood.

Back in the day, children were brought up to respect, revere and in some cases fear their elders. Father's word was law and that was that. Mother dried the tears and bandaged the scars when we decided to learn the hard way.

For the most part, that's old school. I caught the tail-end of that in the 60s, and now that my kids are teenagers, I'm only rarely interested in that kind of autocracy. I say only rarely because there are times, you know, times when our children just want a little too much leeway, don't you find?

And when things get to that level, what are the options? Well, back in the Beatles' heyday, you just left home. You packed a bag and climbed out the window or tiptoed downstairs in the wee small hours, like the girl in that song.

Forty years on, it's more likely that teenagers or young adults don't have to push all that hard to get themselves a little extra leeway. Parenting has moved on from simple autocracy to a more consultative democracy. Privileges and permissions are negotiated, or in some cases annexed.

So when the Rainmakers sing "Do you know your daughter well, and do you know she's dreaming? You know as well as I she stays higher than the moon" they're reminding us that in this age of parenting-as-partnership we still have a duty to curb excesses, point out the straight road and sometimes even pick up the pieces. Which lately it seems we're in danger of forgetting.

When a father kills his daughter because she consorted with the wrong kind of boy, what message is he sending? Is he saying that she should never be allowed to make her own mind upSeriously? In this day and age?

The Beatles seem to hark back to a time when parenting was a pretty inflexible thing, and that there was no wiggle room, no leeway and certainly no room for negotiation. The Rainmakers seem to be telling us that there's no point bolting the stable door after the 60s.

But look all around, and you'll see that accepted norms have shifted in almost every facet of our lives. What was seen as harmless fun 40 years ago is now pounced upon as racism, sexism, homophobia, harassment or abuse. And expectations have shifted too. Our children demanded it once, and now they expect it. If we don't listen and consult we're sidelined, and that's perhaps even worse.

So we walk an ever-tightening line of consent and goodwill, and we rely increasingly on innate good sense combined with whatever lessons we can pass on at an ever-earlier age. Parenthood becomes a higher-stakes game than it has ever been.

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