Sunday, May 20, 2007

Why Am I Here?

Reflecting on the past year of blogging, and having thought long and hard on Mike's post Why Am I Here? I have decided that I should explore this question as well. Why this blog? What is it that motivates my involvement and engagement in the political world, in the volunteer sector, in the contributions I try to make to the world?

My father died from colon cancer at age 60; I was 14 at the time. He was sick for about a year and I watched him slowly deteriorate. I was the only child left living at home; my sister and my four older brothers had already left home by this time. My father was a remote figure in most ways and, despite being a schoolteacher, was not terribly good with kids. He didn't really start to get along with his children until they were young adults; this didn't happen for me as by the time I reached that stage he was already dead. He also suffered from severe depression and what would now be known as PTSD from his WW2 experiences; this had moderated a lot by the time I came along but my elder siblings suffered for his moods.

Perhaps because of this we all experienced his death in different ways, I think. I don't know, as to this day, 25 years later, not one of my siblings has ever asked me how I experienced it. I'm not sure they knew what to do with the kid brother at the time, or what to say to him, and so they said nothing. It's too late now.

My father taught mathematics and physics, but was scornful of undue specialization, particularly in education. He used to believe that if you were to teach, you should know as much as possible about as broad a spectrum of subjects as possible; he also wrote poetry and prose, translated Latin classics, painted, and loved music. His example taught me curiosity and a love for general knowledge; he taught me to be interested in the world around me.

Because he didn't really enjoy his own children, he didn't teach me much about the practicalities of life; what skills I have as a handyman, or with mechanical things, are self-taught through necessity. He would sometimes try to involve me in one of his bizarre projects - he built a boat in our backyard - but inevitably I'd make a mistake, be told I was an idiot and be sent indoors. Indirectly, although I missed out on woodworking skills, I learned tolerance this way, if only not to be like him.

My father was stubborn as an ox, and I learned this too. He always stood firmly for what he believed, and although I'm sure a lot of what I now believe would make him spin in his grave if he had one (he was buried at sea in a force 8 off Felixtowe in Eastern England, with most attendees being violently seasick), the point of standing up for it I learned from him.

I have MS of his poetry and I have his commonplace book - the historical predecessor of blogs. He would note down quotations that appealed, news snippets such as the founding of Israel, literary references, humor, and some of his own journal-style writings. I've learned what I know of the man mostly from this writing; it's taught me that you should leave more for your children than just a couple of books, but that writing and putting as much of yourself as you can in some kind of permanent form is a valuable way for your children and grandchildren to get to know you.

To sum all this up, my father taught me the one thing that really is the reason I'm here; he taught me to care. To care about right and wrong, to care about people - not in some wishy washy nanny state way, but in a real down to earth, making a difference kind of way. To care about learning, to care about issues and arguments, to care enough to make whatever contribution you can. This blog is simply one expression of this, but that is why it's here.