It’s a cliché because it’s true, becoming a parent changes you. One of the things that has changed the most is how we look at the plight of other children who are not as fortunate as ours.
This is only my second Father’s Day as a dad. The first one my daughter was just three days old. We celebrated her first birthday on Friday. The experience exhausts all the adjectives you can think of. It also changes your outlook on life.
This crisis reduces them to the most basic of all human features: a mammal.
One of the most striking, deeply felt sensations for us has been to realize how defenseless children are. It sounds obvious, and it is —you don’t need to have a child to understand it—but living in Venezuela the feeling takes on a different dimension.
Over this past year we have met many other parents, from all backgrounds. Some we met in person, many others over parents’ groups on Whatsapp devoted to finding and exchanging all types of baby supplies. Two themes keep coming back.
First, is how the current humanitarian crisis violates the most basic human dignities, right from birth. From a baby having to go all day with just one diaper, or how their mothers improvise with plastic bags —because they can’t find or afford more than that— to the endless race to find vaccines, to kids with cancer going without chemotherapy.
This crisis, by forcing people to think only about the most necessary items –what’s needed to survive, and little more– reduces them to the most basic of all human features: a mammal. A body that has to be fed, and no more. For babies of the poor, most things above food are simply unaffordable or can’t be found at any price, whether that’s diapers or oral solutions to treat diarrhea.
The second issue, and one that especially gets me as a father, is the incredible abundance of absent and rarely present fathers in our country. These includes guys who might show up every couple of months with a small pack of diapers and maybe some money, to guys that don’t show up at all.
We have seen or heard of guys that run the gamut of bad or invisible fathers, who on our admittedly limited sample appear to be more common that the decent ones. Many disappeared well before the baby was born. Others promised they would be around, only to leave a few weeks after the birth.
It’s not only about those who left for good. There are the guys who get home at 10pm every night because they were “working”; in truth, they want to arrive when the baby is already asleep so they can avoid dealing with any daddy duty. Another classic are the fathers who get home with several friends to get blind drunk while their wives take care of the days-old baby, and cooks dinner for them as well.
There’s the guy who had a baby outside his marriage with a coworker. They were each assigned a Mision Vivienda apartment in the same building, but the guy doesn’t want her to move there, lest her and the baby run into his wife, who doesn’t know about the baby.
During the last Mother’s Day, I learned that it’s quite common for guys to leave their partners –the mother of their children– alone the whole day, and they go spend the day with their own mothers.
The issue that especially gets me is the incredible abundance of absent and rarely present fathers in our country.
Barely anyone in the Venezuelan public sphere talks about this. Every Mother’s Day or International Women’s Day we read the same statements or tweets from politicians about the Venezuelan “warrior women” (guerreras); how tough and hardworking they are, raising their children under incredibly tough circumstances.
Care to mention that they need to be such guerreras because the absent fathers of their children are worthless pieces of shit? Or that even many men that don’t disappear, do close to nothing to help raise their children?
This is not about pontificating about marriage or the traditional family: it’s about men not taking responsibility for their kids, whether they form a couple with the mother or not. And this complete lack of cojones happens in a country chock-full of machismo culture.
While me and my wife have felt this way before, it’s different when you think about this with your daughter in front of you. You think about recent cases that you know, and of people in the past, and you can’t help but think, “How can they do that?”
This rant comes, believe or not, not from anger but from happiness. It comes from caring so much that it’s hard to fathom how others can allow or do these bad things. It comes from having your child look straight into your eyes. As much as I think about it, I can’t come up with a phrase to properly describe that look, so I won’t try.