Adam Bird

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Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Scaredy Cat



The path of fatherhood has been many things, mainly a journey of discovery through various stages of development, enlightening moments, humorous moments, frustrating moments and in the case of posterity, intriguing moments. It has been interesting recording at what exact point in our lifetimes  we first learn to speak, to walk, to grow a first tooth and roll over onto our stomachs, all key moments that we sit and discuss with friends around a cup of coffee and air of admiration, but at what point in time do we start to learn the darker traits that make us human, feelings of hatred, hopelessness and fear?

Last night, I sat with Oliver, our nightly story time routine. It’s his choice, his bedtime is 7.30, he can stay up until 7.45 without a story, or on the dot with a book. He chose to have a story. I’ve done this so many times, the same stories, the Gruffallo, the Stick Man, the Gruffallo’s child and A Very Lonely Night. So I suggested a ‘big boy’s’ story, one of the Roald Dahl books perhaps. “The one about a Giant?” I asked, remembering how he’d been telling me about his dreams of giants not so long ago.

So he lay, as I sat, enunciating each word clearly and asserting emphasis on the mood of mystery as the story unfolds, Sophie awake in the witching hour, until I got to the part that reads:

She saw the Giant straighten up again and she saw him poke the trumpet in through the open upstairs window of the room where the Goochey children were sleeping. She saw the the Giant take a deep breath and whoof, he blew through the trumpet.

Oliver was sobbing, big fat tears rolled down his cheeks, “what’s the matter I ask?”, “this story gives me a really bad feeling!” I turned away, to laugh, it sounds wicked of me I know, but it was his choice of words that surprised me more than anything. I’d understand if he said, “I’m scared Daddy”, but it was the feeling of being scared that he didn’t like - but couldn’t quite identify immediately. He went onto explain that he was scared and didn’t like the story, leading me to abandon the BFG and opt of the Twits instead. He much preferred the account of a man with too much food in his beard and how the man would stop and eat food that he found inside, ultimately falling to sleep with a smile upon his face.

Then today, I get a telephone call, from Stephanie. Can I please speak to Oliver, he is really scared of the thunder and wants to talk to me about it! “Don’t worry Oliver”, I said, “it’s only God, clearing his throat in the sky, nothing to worry about!”, “But Daddy” he replies, “it’s really loud and I had to turn the TV off!” Oh the hardship and sacrifices a four year old must make!

In the space of two day’s, two things, strikingly different circumstances, but the same emotive response. What is it that makes us fear different things? When does fear become irrational, and is it possible to overcome each of our fears?

In the case of Oliver, I could force him to sit and listen through the BFG, learn the story and understand that once you get to know him the BFG isn’t quite so harmless, that it is only a story and all make belief. But in the real world, with real people, the same thing applies, Stephanie has an irrational fear of Sharks. Why? The joys of a Hollywood movie at an impressionable age. She can’t possibly walk down the street without the fear of being eaten by Jaws, but it’s never going to happen is it? My sister, sitting on an aeroplane, on the verge of nearly having to be sedated, despite a cocktail before embarking of alcohol and Prozac. Why? Because the plane was going to crash and she was going to be a victim of a terrorist atrocity.

Laughing as I write this, it’s true isn’t it? We laugh at the things other people are scared of, but confronted with our own fears we shy away and become gibbering wrecks. Is the best way to overcome a fear, stare at it face on and show it that it won’t beat you. Scared of spiders? Pick one up, scared of heights, jump out of a plane, scared of water, learn how to swim? If only life was that easy!

On the flip side however, there is the use of fear as a fuel. Scared of being made redundant and losing your house not being able to get a new job, so you work harder, faster, learn more in an attempt to become indispensable, not that none of us are. Scared of dying too young, so you run further, eat healthier, cut out the late night and the cigarettes.

In Oliver’s case, the two recent examples are easy to explain, feed a child’s imagination with the wonder and mystery of Roald Dahl’s finest, whispered in an eerie tone, let the internal human mechanism take control. Add the unexpected and unknown noise of a thunderclap overhead recording the loudest on recent records and you ask yourself is it any wonder? But I’ve taken more than a passing interest in what keeps us awake at night. Since last week, when I started telling the story of the bicycle man and having to add fictional fears to a fictitious character. Why is it the someone refuses to die? Not the fear of dying as the character is a religious soul, but the fear of never finding out what happened to his missing friend, even though he knows it’s almost likely he’ll find out in the next life anyway. Where did that seed of fear originate, who nurtured it, and how does he overcome it? It’s nothing revolutionary, nothing new, it’s part of what makes us human, right from the moment of birth it would seem.

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