My first year consisted mainly of me, mum, and that dad person orbiting around us. Mum represented safety, warmth, home base, predicability and food; and dad represented the world beyond. Of course, dad was familiar. And mum liked him, so I knew he was okay. But he was also just that little bit unpredictable and scary. Look at this entry in my diary from when I was 11 months old: “He’s picked me up. He’s lifted me up really high. High is okay. I can handle high. A bit scary but okay. Big people wouldn’t drop me. What’s he doing!? He’s throwing me into me the air! MUM! Help! I’m going to fall! He’s… oh! He caught me! I think I’m safe. Am I? Oh no, he’s throwing me again. Aagh! He caught me again. Let’s process that: Fear, followed by reassurance. The edge of terror, and then back again. It was rather fun really. Let me chuckle about that. He’s chuckling too, the old sadist. Mum doesn’t do this – it must be a dad thing. Aagh! He’s thrown me again… and caught me! This is so much fun, I think I’ll throw up on his head.”
I don’t really remember any details from my early years, but if my experience was similar to that of other children, a big part of my expedition to discover the world involved my father. He would introduce me to strange things, things that frightened me! But even though the ‘thing’ was unfamiliar, the experience was now very familiar – genuine fear, but the presence of my dad meant that the risk was not too great. Fear, followed by reassurance. He would hold me as the huge (knee-height?) waves surged towards us. He would hold my fingers out for a calf to suck. He would row me across the totally alien environment of water. He would run with the push-chair, heave the swing up to shrieking height, and show me flapping fish he had just caught. All terrifying, but if dad’s holding your hand, it’s safe and it’s fun.
He taught me that the best adventures and life’s greatest treasures are very close to that edge of terror. The lesson was that courage unlocks life. There would be more lessons – about risk and caution – that life would take decades to teach me, but dad had taught the foundations.
Can mums teach these lessons? Of course they can, but perhaps there is something in the testosterone-laced nature of a man that makes him more naturally suited for these lessons in courage. Life is scary – teach the lessons that make it not just tolerable but fun.
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