A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…
I’ve tried to write this about a dozen times now, and I keep having to scrap it and start again. Actually, that may be a lie but you wouldn’t know that would you, oh oppressed reader?
This is the third part of what I’ve come to call the Caelan trilogy. You will see why in time.
It started with this piece about myself, a light hearted romp about an intrepid hero fighting comic book villains (like depression, anxiety and grossly indecent comical value).
In case you haven’t worked it out yet (as I hadn’t till I thought up this hilarious piece just minutes ago) I’m following the classic Star Wars format. The sequel was this depressing article, which, much like The Empire Strikes Back, was a little bit shorter, mostly rubbish, and ended on a depressing note. Also, interestingly, there was a surprise ending (that was really kind of obvious when you think about it) where you discovered that I am in fact a father. I guess that must make me the villain.
And now I come to the end (until the remake), an article about cute little people that act just like regular people in many ways, aside from their passion for destruction using bows and ropes: babies. Ok maybe this analogy grows old.
It is completely cliche to say having a child is a life changing experience…Having a child is a life changing experience.
It’s not what I thought though. I can’t speak for anyone else, but when I always heard people say that, I imagined people pulling up their boot straps, throwing out their Megadeth collection, and suddenly realising they want to be a good person. Like they were some kind of bottom feeding scum that just happened to get lucky and pop a child out.
“Pop a child out”, such a patriarchal saying. “Like, geeze I already spent five minutes huffing and grinding will you just hurry up and do your part and pop that thing out?” Phbbbbbbbbbbt POP!
In some ways though it is kind of descriptive of a father’s experience of child birth. The mother (or so I’m told) feels the baby inside themselves, slowly growing. They know them before they’re even born and develop a deep bond. When you’re a father on the other hand you don’t completely understand what’s going on till the baby “pops out”. In one of my classic foot in mouth moments, when Caelan was born all I could think to say was “Oh my god, it’s a person!”, like secretly I was expecting some kind of alien zenomorph to crawl out and immediately face hug the nearest midwife.
When you first see your child there is a flood of emotion. It’s inexplicable so I’m not even going to attempt to try. If you haven’t had one yet, go do that quickly before reading on.
Actually, while we’re waiting for the others, why is it that dead baby jokes are so funny? You know the type, like:
What’s yellow and pink and blue and sits at the bottom of the pool? A baby with slashed floaties.
By all accounts this is kind of disturbing. But we’ve all laughed at them and told them in secret to our school yard chums. I can only imagine that the idea of treating a baby in such a shameful way is so ridiculous, that the only reaction you can summon is to laugh at the extreme stupidity of the whole idea.
And yet, things like this happen.
When I saw my son for the first time, it was like a flash of clarity came over me. A child, of your own flesh and blood (well DNA anyway. What is this? 18th century biology class?), innocent and exposed to the world. What choice do you have but to protect it? Anything else seems inconceivable right?
And still, things like this happen.
Like that, all the excuses, all the reasoning, all the rationales, all the traditions, just melted away like the bubbling pot of bullshit excuses they really are. In that moment I realised that no person deserves to be abused. This, beautiful, perfect creature, this miracle of the natural world. This thing to which we owe everything, and yet it gives us so much. Our future. All that remains in this world after we die. To do anything but cherish it, isn’t that some kind of failure (however understandable) on our part?
And then the world came crashing down.
I began to see things for what they really were. The things that had happened to me. They weren’t just the way it is. This wasn’t right at all.
I think this is probably hard for people to hear but this is something I’m starting to realise: you may be as mentally ill as I am.
The number one barrier to dealing with mental illness (in my humble opinion) is this simple fact: everything you ever do, have done or will do, will be the only world you know. You have no frame of reference. We convince ourselves that we are some kind of “gods”, as though we can have some kind of objective view of our life experience. But really the frame of reference IS our own life. Objectively knowing how happy you are is some kind of myth. What? Do we just look it up on the periodic table of happelments? “Oh yes I see I’m experiencing 14000 megajowels of happiness this morning”. How do we even know we’re happy? Maybe we’re just less depressed than yesterday?
And so you go through life, and maybe you have this inkling in the back of your head that something’s not quite right, but still you tell yourself “that’s the way it is”. Have you REALLY ever taken a good hard look at your life and asked, I mean truly asked, is my life ACTUALLY normal? I hadn’t. I assumed that every little thing was just normal experience. A healthy life. It takes asking the hard questions to really even come to accept that you have some kind of illness in your mind. And I mean really hard questions, the kind that we don’t like to even imagine lest it destroy our very image of the world as we know it.
Maybe the most important question I am still asking is, who are the villains? Ask yourself that and look around. We all try to convince ourselves that villains are nasty creatures that jump out from behind trees to scare small children. But are they really? Who are the villains in your life? Is it your friend? Your lover? Your family? Is it you?
Maybe there is something more to this whole Star Wars analogy. Vader, in his moment of triumph, realises this at just the right moment. Finally sees himself as the villain he has become. He sees the way he is oppressing his son, the man he is meant to love. And in a final act of supreme sacrifice, both learn to forgive the villain, and Vader saves his family (and the entire galaxy…booyah).
And we see, too, at that moment, that Vader is victim and villain both. And, for a moment, hero. I kind of wonder are they one and the same thing? Maybe these words we use don’t even really make sense in the real world.
I know now that there is something not right. I know that my life is not just “the way it is”. I have my son to thank for that. My beautiful miracle. I suppose we’re lead to believe that as parents we are supposed to save them. It’s almost self obsessed, like we imagine them mortals and ourselves their saving titans.
I know differently now. It is they who save us.
Next week: How to start your own blog, in only 427 simple steps!